As the sun rose over the Lakewood Center, a tired Verizon employee made his way to unlock the store and begin another day, but not before walking through a crowd of picketers taking aim at the telecommunications company. Over 20 people held signs reading “Save our Internet” and “Stop the FCC” were raised towards the streets as some passing vehicles signaled support with a friendly honk.
“This is essentially us making a stand against the corporations that sided against the regulations… we’re not putting up with this,” Michael Koch, a Lakewood resident said. “And I’m a Verizon customer so this is painful to switch away from them.”
Verizon stores saw a surge of activity Thursday as protesters gathered at stores nationwide to rally against the Federal Communications Commission’s vote next week to repeal net neutrality regulations. Verizon, as well as Comcast and AT&T, have been largely supportive of the decision to repeal net neutrality regulations and collectively spent half a billion dollars lobbying against the regulations.
Security was called to the store on the protesters around 11 a.m. However, due to the orderly nature of the event, the attendees were only asked to move to the closest public space, the sidewalk, where the group received mass support from passing vehicles.
The Federal Communications Commission will be voting to repeal net neutrality regulations on Dec. 14.
Net neutrality, established under the Obama Administration in 2015, acts as a guiding principle that prevents internet service providers from providing data equally.
Lakewood’s store was one of almost 700 Verizon shops where of activists and internet users came together to protest current chairman of the commission and former top lawyer for Verizon, Ajit Pai, who was appointed to his position by President Donald Trump.
The commission intends to roll back the regulations that prevent internet service providers from blocking certain websites, splitting the Internet into “fast lanes” for high-paying companies and “slow lanes” for those who pay less.
“We’re in the internet age and by eliminating net neutrality, it causes a splintering of what services you can get,” Yosh Yamanaka, a Long Beach resident said.
With assistance from the internet advocacy group, Team Internet, Project Management Professional Rhonda Cox organized the Lakewood protest, providing information flyers and assisting with other protestors in preparing for the event.
“I wanted to host this protest because [net neutrality] is something I care very deeply about,” Cox said. “I’m a gamer, I also work in the video game industry and [the repeal] could seriously affect my career.”
Pai, who is in support of the repeal, believes that net neutrality is harming telemedicine, the use of telecommunications technology to diagnose and treat patients, and that paid prioritization will be beneficial by making it more feasible for the sick or elderly to receive medication.
“By ending the outright ban on paid prioritization, we hope to make it easier for consumers to benefit from services that need prioritization—such as latency-sensitive telemedicine,” Pai said during a speech last week in Washington D.C.
The implication that net neutrality regulations are hindering people from access to medical treatment has been pushed by Pai, Verizon and other supporters of the repeal. However, exceptions were already put into place in 2010 and 2015 by the Federal Communications Commission that allow for those medical services to exist.
“[Corporations] don’t want you to have your best interests in mind, they want you to have their interests in mind and make you think it’s benefitting you,” said Miles Haisley Cal State Long Beach master of arts in linguistics student. “It’s almost like being in an abusive relationship with someone.”
With concerns from skeptics that net neutrality infringes upon capitalism and the free market, Cox fears that people have misconceptions about the need for regulations.
“Regulation here from the government is important,” Cox said. “We don’t want to lose that, we don’t want to give corporations the power to censor, block or see what we do on the Internet.”
Beach students were also present to advocate for net neutrality and the possible effects repealing them could mean for the education system.
“Assuming Long Beach’s campus is mediated through some [Internet service provider,] then why wouldn’t they add extra gating fees to get access to the online journals or other school resources we might need?” Haisley asked.