Comedian John Oliver, incensed over proposed changes to unravel Net neutrality protections for consumers, on Sunday unleashed a torrent of criticism against the Federal Communications Commission and urged viewers to register their protest online. The response led to a digital meltdown on the agency’s site that night.
Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight and a former writer for The Daily Show, targeted a proposal by Ajit Pai, the agency’s new chairman, that would loosen Net neutrality regulations. It would allow Internet service providers to abide by market forces and largely self-police their conduct.
Pai last month proposed reversing the Obama administration’s decision to regulate ISPs under Title II, saying the move stifled innovation and made it more difficult for companies to invest and modernize.
Domestic broadband investment fell by US$3.6 billion, or 5.6 percent, from 2014 to 2016, he noted.
Oliver, who famously unleashed his viewers on the FCC in 2014, in the run-up to its implementation of Net neutrality rules, launched a blistering new attack on Pai, a former Verizon attorney.
Verizon represents itself as being in favor of an open Internet, Oliver noted, in a video featuring Craig Silliman, EVP for public policy and general counsel.
The FCC just wants to put the regulation of ISPs on a “different legal footing,” Silliman argues.
Verizon’s reasoning was analogous to O.J. Simpson asking why you won’t let him hold onto one of your Samurai swords, Oliver said.
“Come on, Juice, you know why,” he quipped.
Oliver raised some legitimate concerns, Tim Mulligan, senior analyst at Midia Research, including open competition between incumbent ISPs and new entrants in the digital space, and fair access for smaller Internet search engines, content providers and other companies.
“The principal of Net neutrality is a crucial aspect of the digital economy which underpins the ability for new market entrants to compete for digital engagement,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
“John Oliver is merely helping to bring the issue to the attention of the wider public,” Mulligan said. He is “helping to demystify the issue, which in a world of increasing consolidation — through operator/media mega mergers such as AT&T-Time Warner — is an important act of awareness raising.”
The FCC’s latest proposal is an “orchestrated march to destroy consumer protections,” charged broadband analyst Craig Settles.
Eliminating Net neutrality would give incumbents the ability to “neuter” free speech, he added.
“As far as the relevancy and credibility we give John Oliver, there were millions of people who responded to the call to support Net neutrality three years ago,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
“The only thing John Oliver does is make a complex issue understandable by the average citizen and issue a reasonable call to action,” Settles maintained. “What’s important here is the message, not the messenger.”
A Verizon spokesperson declined our request to comment for this story.
The FCC’s website fell victim to distributed denial of service attacks starting Sunday night, according to David Bray, the agency’s chief information officer.
The attacks were “deliberate attempts by external actors” to bombard the FCC comment system with a high amount of traffic to its external cloud host, he said.
“These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves,” Bray maintained. “Rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC.”
The FCC is working with its commercial partners to address the situation and will monitor events going forward, he said.
The proposed changes have divided the FCC. As a commissioner, Pai sided with the more market-oriented conservatives during the Obama administration.
Pai’s proposal would undo years of work at the agency, said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn last month, when Pai proposed the changes.
“Broadband providers should not be in the driver’s seat, determining how you use the Internet, controlling what content you view, or dictating what devices you can use,” Clyburn argued.