Net neutrality protests target Washington Verizon stores

The threat to America's net neutrality policy has spurred protests at Verizon stores across Washington state and the nation.

Verizon stores across Washington state will face crowds of protesters on the same day as the fate of net neutrality hangs in limbo.

The Federal Communications Commission will vote on Dec. 14 on a plan to remove America’s net neutrality policy — it is expected to pass. Before that vote, protests have been organized in every state throughout the nation, including 19 demonstrations at Verizon stores in Washington.

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It is unclear how popular the protests will be. One demonstration in Olympia has a Facebook event with more than 200 people interested in taking part.

All events are on Dec. 7, unless otherwise indicated:

What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality is the way the Internet has operated over the past couple of years. It can get a little technical for the average Internet user who just wants Netflix to deliver their shows efficiently.

On one side of the argument are those who say the Internet has become so essential to society that it is akin to telephone lines and highways. Therefore it should be available equally to everyone, ensuring information is freely shared, and businesses operate on the same level. On the other side of the argument are those who say that businesses should be able to charge websites for preferential service.

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Under net neutrality, all websites are delivered to you over the Internet at the same speed. It doesn’t matter if it’s Amazon.com, an online mom and pop shop, or Netflix or Hulu; all data is treated the same. Without net neutrality, an Internet service provider (Comcast, CenturyLink, Verizon, etc.) can pick and choose what websites and services it delivers, and how fast. In theory, a provider could charge company X a fee to ensure their website gets to you first, then company Y would be “throttled” (the provider intentionally slows it down).

Verizon and the protests

One reason many protests are targeting Verizon stores is that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai once worked as an attorney for the company between 2001-2003. He has since worked in a variety of government positions from the Department of Justice to the FCC, generally working on communications issues.

In 2011, Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell recommended Pai for a Republican position at the FCC. President Barack Obama, in turn, nominated Pai for the position. When President Donald Trump entered office in 2017, he placed Pai as head of the FCC. In this position, Pai has worked to remove regulations on the Internet.

According to a statement from Evan Greer with Fight for the Future, a group organizing the protests across the nation, Verizon is being targeted for its role in lobbying the FCC.

The protests will highlight the company’s role lobbying to kill rules that prevent telecom giants from charging extra fees, engaging in censorship, or controlling what Internet users see and do through discriminatory throttling.