Verizon Accuses Net Neutrality Advocates of Lying to Rile Base

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Craig Sillman, executive VP-public policy and general counsel at Verizon
Craig Sillman, executive VP-public policy and general counsel at Verizon Credit: Verizon

Net neutrality is under threat and advocacy groups such as Free Press, Fight for the Future and others are pushing to save it. That's not how Verizon, one of the Internet Service Providers hoping for a reversal of Federal Communications Commission rules enabling net neutrality, sees it.

"You gotta understand, there are a lot of advocacy groups out there that fundraise on this issue," said Craig Sillman, executive VP-public policy and general counsel at the telco giant. "So how do you fundraise? You stir people up with outrageous claims. Unfortunately, we live in a time where people have discovered that it doesn't matter what's true, you just say things to rile up the base."

Sillman spoke in a PR video released by Verizon on Friday in which he is interviewed by an apparent Verizon employee who calls himself "Jeremy." Sillman argued the FCC is not planning to kill off net neutrality, it's merely altering its legal footing.

The FCC in 2015 reclassified ISPs as common carriers and adopted the Open Internet Order, which ensured that all web traffic is treated equally and not subject to blocking or slowdowns by ISPs. At the time, a Verizon spokesman called the decision "a 'radical' step that imposes 'badly antiquated regulations,' " according to Bloomberg News.

The new FCC oversight also enabled the agency to establish the privacy rules for ISPs which were recently snuffed out by Congress before going into effect. Those rules were opposed by Verizon, other ISPs and the ad industry.

Despite the fact that Verizon has fought net neutrality publicly and via congressional lobbying efforts for years, Sillman claimed that Verizon actually supports it. "We as the ISPs have said, look, we fully support the net neutrality rules. We're not OK with giving the FCC unbounded jurisdiction over our business."

"It is really interesting to see them co-opting of the term net neutrality," said Candace Clement, campaign director at Free Press, an advocacy group that counts the protection of net neutrality among its core causes.

"Verizon is co-opting it because they know the public supports net neutrality and we're not stupid. They can't sell people on fake net neutrality and get away with it."

In the Verizon video, already widely panned in media reports and by net neutrality proponents, Sillman goes on to suggest that advocacy groups are claiming that net neutrality is under threat of extinction simply because the truth is too boring. "It's not sexy to say they're changing the legal foundation for this. It's only sexy if they say they're killing the open internet. It's not true," stated Sillman in the video, entitled "Where we stand on net neutrality."

Free Press is gearing up for the FCC's May 18 meeting during which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, himself Verizon's associate general counsel from 2001-2003, plans to put forth a notice of proposed rulemaking that would alter the agency's jurisdiction over ISPs. Free Press is currently engaged in a fundraising campaign to "raise $100K in 100 days to save net neutrality."

"It's official. Trump and Pai plan to destroy net neutrality," states the site. The group is part of a coalition of organizations and corporations including Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, Netflix and Mozilla, which are pushing to preserve the current net neutrality rules.

In addition to contacting its email list of around 1 million supporters, Free Press has run Facebook ads to coax people to sign a petition or call legislators in support of net neutrality.

"Chairman Pai could still back down if he wants to leave the dark side," said Clement.

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