More Than 1 Million People Want Net Neutrality Back

Timothy Karr of the Free Press holds a sign in support of net-neutrality before a hearing at the U.S. Federal Communications
Timothy Karr of the Free Press holds a sign in support of net-neutrality before a hearing at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010. U.S. regulators banned Internet service providers led by AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. from blocking or slowing Web content sent to homes and businesses, while allowing mobile phone companies to put limits on traffic. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The battle to preserve Internet freedom got a shot in the arm this week with a dramatic demonstration by activists in front of the Federal Communications Commission.

The move sent a strong signal that the uproar over a recent federal court ruling striking down net neutrality, or the policy that Internet service providers must treat all online content equally, is far from over.

On Thursday, activists dropped over 1 million signed petitions off at an FCC meeting, demanding the agency bring back net neutrality. The petitioners were joined by a coalition of 86 companies and organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Reporters Without Borders and Reddit. The group of 86 also sent a letter to the FCC asking for a change.

"People are rightly outraged at the loss of net neutrality protections, and they're hungry for ways to take action," said Josh Levy, the Internet campaign director for media advocacy organization Free Press, one of the main groups that helped collect the signatures. "That’s why the coalition of groups that got a million signatures -- Free Press, CREDO, ColorofChange, Avaaz, Demand Progress and many others -- was able to gather them so quickly."

Levy said that the group was able to collect the signatures in just two weeks.

The petitions ask the FCC to reclassify ISPs as "common carriers." The change would mean the FCC can go back to forcing the providers to not discriminate against certain types of traffic or content online -- essentially resurrecting old net neutrality rules in a slightly different form.

On Friday, President Obama gave the movement a boost by reaffirming his position in favor of net neutrality. "It’s something that I’ve cared deeply about ever since I ran for office," he said in a public Google Hangout.

"We hope FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is paying attention to our message. The fact is, net neutrality is the reason all of these petitions even exist. Without net neutrality, the Internet as we know it could be a relic of the past. We urge Chairman Wheeler to do the right thing and save the Internet for good," Free Press wrote in a bulletin posted on its website shortly after the petition was delivered.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler responded to the petition by saying, "A million people? That’s boffo."

And what did Free Press think of Wheeler's reaction?

"Despite the funny wording, this clearly shows he’s paying attention," Levy said.