Remember Dudley Do-Right? He was the dim-witted but affable Canadian Mountie with the cleft chin who busied himself saving Nell from his arch enemy, Snidely Whiplash. Snidely, of course, was always portrayed as a good nemesis should be – in a black coat and top hat, with a strangely menacing mustache and a greenish pallor. Snidely had a nasty habit off tying damsels to railroad tracks, odd but convenient for facilitating a rescue by Dudley and his chin.
So, it was with the recent open internet “Day of Action.” The Fight for the Future crowd cast itself a Dudley, saving the Open Internet Damsel from being tied to the tracks by the evil cable companies and ISPs. But a funny thing happened on the way to the denouement – a few funny things, actually.
First, AT&T joined the Day of Action because we too support an open internet. We are and have always been against blocking, censorship and discriminatory throttling. We support transparency in internet practices. But wait, the net neut Dudleys cried, that’s not part of our narrative. How can we save the damsel if the ISPs refuse to tie her to the tracks? The activists were confounded.
I’ll be honest, I don’t get the confusion. AT&T has for years consistently supported the core tenets of an open internet in our advocacy, in our business practices and even in sworn testimony before Congress. But that didn’t matter. There was instead much seething that we refused to don the black coat and hat as the script demanded. Indeed, far from embracing our support for internet freedom, the FFF crowd declared our support a deliberate effort to mislead the public, all because we share a common goal but do not embrace common means. FFF went as far as to mean-girl us by proclaiming that we couldn’t even sit at the open internet table. Is it ironic to pursue an agenda of openness through exclusionary tactics, or is it just me?
Then things got weirder. Minutes after we posted our blog announcing that we were joining the Day of Action, Twitter flagged our public policy website as being “potentially harmful or associated with a violation of Twitter’s Terms of Service,” effectively blocking tweets of the blog as well as all other content from our site. This went on for four and a half hours. We tried to reach someone at Twitter with no luck. Twitter later told the press that blocking our site was a “glitch” and that our account “was erroneously caught in Twitter’s anti-spam filters.” In the seven and a half years we’ve had our public policy site, we’ve never been caught up in the Twitter spam filter – only on the Day of Action.
Did Twitter decide that if the ISPs weren’t going to tie Nell to the track, they would, because someone had to tie Nell to the track in order for Dudley to save her? Hard to know. Although we never got an answer from Twitter, maybe Congress will have some luck. What we did learn from the event is that the “no blocking” prohibition so loudly proclaimed as part of the Day of Action apparently doesn’t apply to all internet companies, only those that are scripted as the black hat villains.
Next, it became clear that not even all the internet companies that were permitted to join the Day of Action were embracing the fevered tactics of the Triple F leaders. Google published a blog post but devoted no real estate to the effort, and Amazon simply encouraged users to “Learn More.”
Facebook leadership posted brief messages saying they supported the current FCC rules but were also open to working with Congress to enact bipartisan legislation. Much credit to Facebook for this thoughtful position as contrasted to the scorched earth rhetoric elsewhere. (Can we support Facebook, or is that prohibited as well?)
In the Do-Right films, Nell is always saved, but recall that Dudley’s fumbling efforts are rarely the reason. Rather, Dudley’s capable horse (named Horse) generally overcomes Dudley’s incompetence to get the job done.
Likewise, we can all rest easy that the internet is safe. If the Day of Action proved anything, it’s that there is broad consensus that the internet in America should always be a place for free expression of ideas and an open exchange of information free from censorship and blocking. The disagreement is really quite narrow. Should we, as a country, ensure an open internet by working together to enact in Congress clear rules of the road that apply to all companies or should we rely on an antiquated statute written decades ago in a monopoly era that expressly permits common carriers to do things like “furnish the reports of positions of ships at sea to newspapers of general circulation”? (If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to actually read Title II, Section 201 to be specific.)
We believe it should be the former, and we stand ready to work with anyone, including Horse, who believes in the open internet and who wants to work toward a legislative solution that ensures the internet will remain open for generations to come. And the hearing called by Chairman Walden to explore the ground rules for the Internet Ecosystem will be a significant step toward that goal.
Post-script: In the wake of the Day of Action, press reports confirmed that net neut comments were flooding the FCC’s servers from . . . [wait for it] . . . Russia. Boris and Natasha? The Union of Villains, Thieves, and Scoundrels? We may need to call Dudley in to investigate.