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Why We're Never Done Fighting for an Open Internet

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tl;dr Call or text California Governor Jerry Brown at 1-833-288-4404 to let him know you support open internet legislation.

What’s happening?

We can’t sugar coat the disappointing and controversial decision by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to roll back the strong net neutrality protections of the 2015 Open Internet Order. Predictably, since the December 2017 FCC vote, internet service providers and wireless carrier companies have acted against the best interests of consumers with increased impunity: both through blocking and throttling consumers communications and introducing steep price increases.

It would be understandable if net neutrality advocates got frustrated, packed up, and moved on -- but that hasn’t happened because there’s simply too much at stake.  We’re heartened that supporters are rallying efforts to protect net neutrality at multiple levels of government. There are important efforts taking place across a range of venues: in the courts, at federal regulatory agencies, in Congress, and at the state level.

The fight to preserve open and accessible communications is far from over.

Twilio stands in strong support of the innovators fighting to protect an open internet. Here are two recent actions we've taken, and a call to action for you as a reader of the Twilio blog.

Twilio filed a Federal Court brief supporting net neutrality

In August, Twilio filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit supporting legal challenges to the FCC’s repeal of its net neutrality rules.

What’s an amicus curiae brief and what did Twilio say in it?

An amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief allows a third party to contribute their unique perspective to a case. Twilio’s brief was filed in support of Mozilla, Vimeo, Open Technology Institute, Public Knowledge and dozens of states Attorneys General in their challenge to the FCC's Restoring Internet Freedom order.

Twilio’s brief argues that when the FCC repealed net neutrality protections, the agency incorrectly concluded that broadband providers would effectively police themselves, and that the government would police open internet without strong net neutrality rules. Twilio’s brief presents strong evidence that this is not the case:

“The Commission... failed to provide a reasoned or reasonable explanation for how allowing providers to block and throttle legal online content (as long as they disclose it) will prevent... harms.  In particular, it ignored the cautionary tale of the text messaging ecosystem: that when communications senders and recipients are not protected against blocking and throttling by the underlying network providers, the free flow of communications suffers."

Without effective regulation and oversight, communications providers do what is best for themselves: charge consumers more for less and discriminate against content providers.

In fact, as demonstrated by Twilio's brief, this is already happening with text messaging — another mode of communication that the FCC has abdicated its responsibility to protect. Each month, wireless carriers routinely block or throttle tens of millions of the legitimate text messages that consumers have opted into and expect to receive -- all without obtaining permission from wireless subscribers.

Twilio told the court that because broadband providers now face substantially the same regulatory treatment as with text messaging, evidence of blocking and throttling of consumer communication and its subsequent harm is already evident, and that these behaviors are to the detriment of consumers.

You can read Twilio’s brief here.

What happens next and could this actually work?

The DC Circuit Court will hear arguments later this year. Twilio hopes the court will recognize its previous support for the 2015 Open Internet Order and find that the Restoring Internet Freedom order that reversed the protections was improperly enacted, but even with that outcome, additional legal challenges are inevitable.

A more enduring, predictable outcome at the national level could come through Congressional action. The Senate passed a Congressional Review Act to restore the Open Internet Order but support for the measure has stalled in the House of Representatives.

Similarly, Twilio is supportive of a legislative solution that creates new legislations that would restore the important protections of the Open Internet Order.  Unfortunately, compromise, bipartisan legislation, no matter how common sense and important, is in short supply these days. If the winds shift to a more collaborative Congress in 2019 and beyond, Twilio stands ready to lend support to such efforts.

In the meantime, while Twilio strongly supports federal open internet protections, there have been multiple efforts at the state level to preserve consumer rights.

One of the most notable state efforts is underway in California.

Twilio supports the California net neutrality legislation

Twilio was joined by twenty other companies in a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown expressing strong support for open internet principles.

California Governor Jerry Brown has until the end of September to sign SB 822, a bill that would restore the 2015 Open Internet Order protections for California consumers.

Why are you telling me about a state law?

The size of the California economy makes this state legislation interesting for all American consumers.  Historically, through energy and environmental policy, California has set standards at the state level that were adopted by other states, or the federal level.  Further, companies often “race to the top” to meet the highest standard of regulatory requirements rather than have discordant policies across jurisdictions.

In short, establishing strong net neutrality protections for California consumers would create an important precedent.  

That’s why the letter supporting SB 822 notes: “The strength of the internet economy relies on open and accessible communications. As the home state of so many companies who are powering the innovation economy, California can lead the way.”

Is there a call to action for me here?

Yup. This is about your internet. The voices of innovators, creators, and consumers of the internet – people like you – are especially important in this debate.

To be connected to Governor Brown and encourage California to lead the way on strong open internet protections, you can text or call 1-833-288-4404.

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