Commentary

John Oliver Rallies Net Neutrality Supporters

In 2014, comedian John Oliver's segment endorsing net neutrality prompted so many people to flood the Federal Communications Commission with comments that the agency's site crashed.

Last night, with the net neutrality rules facing the very real possibility of repeal, the host of HBO's "Last Week Tonight" devoted 19 minutes to reiterating the importance of net neutrality rules. (The FCC's comment site crashed after the segment aired, but the agency says the crash was the result of a denial of service attack.) 

Oliver's most recent plea for net neutrality comes two weeks after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a former Verizon attorney, unveiled a plan to scrap the rules. Pai's plan centers on reversing the FCC's 2015 decision to classify broadband providers as utility companies, regulated under Title II of the Communications Act.

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Oliver noted in his segment that the FCC only took that step after a federal appeals court invalidated earlier regulations that prohibited Internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic. The court said in its ruling -- which came about as a result of a lawsuit filed by Verizon -- that the FCC could only impose those types of rules on Title II companies.

"Despite being a smart man, he sure loves to play dumb about why ISPs were ever moved to Title II," Oliver said.

He then played a clip in which Pai argued that the decision to reclassify broadband providers was unnecessary.

"Pai's larger argument there is deeply disingenuous because he has to know that Verizon, his ex-employer, won a lawsuit that meant that if the FCC wanted strong, enforceable protection, its only real option was to reclassify ISPs," Oliver said.

He went on to address Pai's "almost laughably lax" plan that ISPs should voluntarily commit to net neutrality principles by including them in their terms of service.

"That idea would basically make net neutrality as binding as a proposal on  The Bachelor," Oliver scoffed.

The current rules prohibit ISPs from blocking or degrading content and creating paid fast lanes. They also include a "general conduct" standard that broadly prohibits Internet service providers from unreasonably impeding the ability of consumers and content providers to reach each other.

The FCC is expected to vote next week on whether to seek public comments on Pai's proposed repeal.

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