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Philly 'net neutrality' protesters joined national effort opposing FCC vote

Philly group rallies over net neutrality as the Federal Communications Commission schedule Dec. 14 vote. It was part of a nationwide movement. They say they fear the future.

John Prenis, Northeast Philadelphia, protested the Federal Communications Commission's plan to roll back net neutrality on Dec. 7 at a Verizon building in Philadelphia.
John Prenis, Northeast Philadelphia, protested the Federal Communications Commission's plan to roll back net neutrality on Dec. 7 at a Verizon building in Philadelphia.Read moreBob Fernandez/Staff

Protesters in Philadelphia rallied at two Verizon sites on Thursday evening against a plan by the Federal Communications Commission to roll back "net neutrality" rules.

"The internet is independent of big corporations," John Prenis said outside a Verizon building at 900 Race St., part of a national protest against the FCC plans to kill provisions that prevent carriers from blocking web sites or otherwise throttling internet traffic. "Anybody can join, and nobody has special privileges, and I'd like to see it stay that way."

Prenis, 70, carried a sign that said "Don't Throttle Me" on one side and "Every Packet Equal" on the other.

About a dozen people braved the chill at the Race Street building, while a larger and more raucous crowd protested outside the Verizon Wireless store on Market Street near 11th Street. Protesters targeted Verizon Wireless stores across the nation because Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman who is leading the charge to repeal network neutrality, is a former Verizon lawyer.

The online publication Ars Technica reported that attendance varied around the country, with rallies in New York's Times Square and San Francisco drawing 200 or more participants.

The Republican-controlled FCC has scheduled a vote on the rollback for Dec. 14 that is almost certain to pass along partisan lines. There are three Republicans and two Democrats on the commission. The measure will reclassify the internet as an "information service" and not a utility, and would dismantle formal rules banning companies from blocking web sites or throttling internet traffic. It also would allow for "paid prioritization" of internet traffic, or what critics call fast lanes and slow lanes for favored content.

Comcast, Verizon and other big telecoms have bashed the Obama net neutrality rules as unnecessary — Comcast has already promised net neutrality to its customers, executives have said — and maintain that deregulation would bring more investment and innovation to the internet.

The new rules also would prevent the government from regulating internet prices — a big concern for cable companies as consumers look to watch streamed entertainment content over the internet. Some internet service providers are considering "usage-based" pricing based on how much a household or individual streams.

The political battle over regulating the internet is more than 15 years old, with regulatory approaches seesawing between Republican and Democratic administrations. More than 20 million comments — many of them bogus, according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman whose office analyzed the record — have been submitted to the FCC as part of the process to pass the news rules. Critics fear that without net neutrality rules, telecom companies could block sites and drive up prices.

"We should not give it up to private corporations so that they can monetize it and rip everyone off like they do with other industries," said Sean Gilday, 26, of Wallingford, who was attending the Race Street rally.

The internet "will be taken away from a lot of people who can't afford it," said Inez Campbell, who attended the rally with her husband, John, both of Eastwick.

Alex Pezzati, 30, of West Philadelphia, said  he was concerned that the internet of the future "won't resemble what I grew up with." It was the first time he has participated in a rally or protest of any kind, he said.

Tara Schuenemann, 42, of Chinatown, said she believed that innovation could be slowed with the FCC plan: "I don't believe in the fast lanes and slow lanes."