Gigi Sohn’s net neutrality-focused Twitter Chat May 13 was at one point trending higher than a photo of Ben Affleck in his new Batman suit—the surest indicator of the event’s success.
Sohn lead consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge for 12 years—a good portion of which she spent pressuring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on behalf of consumers and advocating for net neutrality—before being tapped by new FCC Chair Tom Wheeler to be his special counsel for external affairs.
Months before President Obama’s nomination of Wheeler, Sohn wrote in an op-ed that she hoped the new FCC chair would be “dedicated to and willing to act to promote, among other things, an open Internet free of gatekeepers.”
The Twitter Chat was established in much the same vein, with Sohn seemingly tapped for the task due to her sympathies.
“The Internet is America’s most important platform for innovation, economic growth and free expression. And yet, despite two prior FCC attempts to implement and enforce Open Internet safeguards, there are no rules on the books to prevent broadband providers from limiting Internet openness by blocking or discriminating against consumers and entrepreneurs online,” the FCC said on its site, announcing the one-hour event, which Twitter users could find through the hashtag #FCCNetNeutrality.
Such pro-open language, however, did nothing to calm the ire Wheeler raised in recent weeks, suggesting in a blog post that while he was against discriminating against or slowing any Internet traffic, he was open to the idea of letting some companies pay Internet service providers (ISPs) for faster-than-average service. On May 15, despite calls for a delay, Wheeler is scheduled to present proposed rules for governing the Internet.
Sohn opened the Chat with the greeting, “Hello! Thanks for participating. Chairman Wheeler has been listening & will continue to listen to you about #FCCNetNeutrality,” and was deluged with questions, declarations, angry comments and accusations.
A sampling of the spectrum of Tweets aimed at Sohn:
“The Internet is a venue for open and equal communication, don’t allow it to be ruined for financial gain,” wrote @DaneHanrahan.
“How do you believe the American people will benefit by instituting paid prioritization, if at all?” wrote @NathanBGrant.
“To consider anything OTHER than classifying the Internet as a utility is a slap in the face to the American public!” wrote @crossproduct.
“@TomWheelerFCC – you should ask the @JusticeDept for the best bank to offshore your payout for selling out,” wrote @mnimehdi.
Sohn, responding to a question or comment every few minutes, explained that the FCC is considering whether to reclassify ISPs, and how, which would determine whether it has any control over them. In January, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Verizon doesn’t need to abide by the regulations of the FCC’s Open Internet Order—a document that says all Internet traffic should be treated equally—because the FCC doesn’t classify ISPs as common carriers.
“Good question. The draft proposal seeks comment as 2 whether Title II or 706 is best route 2 an open Internet,” Sohn said during the Twitter Chat.
Her other responses included:
“Title II is up for consideration as a solution in the #FCCnetneutrality proposal”
“Public will have 60 days 2 comment & another nearly 60 for reply comments if proposal is adopted on Thurs.”
“Right now there r no rules 2 protect open Internet. ISPs thrived & invested when 2010 rules were in place.”
“Chairman has always been clear that Title II is a viable option. #FCCNetNeutrality proposal asks which option is best.”
“Draft asks qs about the impact of an open internet on the digital divide & access 4 all communities.”
In an early Tweet, Sohn acknowledged that the chat was taking place because Wheeler “wants to engage” with the American people on the issue. She also added that Wheeler was “listening.”
One Twitter Chat participant, @rapidbadger, summed up how the event had gone, writing, “She answered one question. The same way. Over and over.”