BUSINESS

John Oliver begs Internet users to save net neutrality: 'We need all of you'

HBO’s John Oliver isn’t about to let the tough net neutrality rules he helped get enacted be erased without a fight.

Three years ago, a 20-minute net neutrality segment on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” went viral. It helped spur an outpouring of public comments that led the Federal Communications Commission to enact tough regulations protecting the free flow of online content.

Now, with current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai moving to dismantle the tough legal oversight behind those rules — which prohibit broadband companies from blocking websites, slowing connection speeds and charging for faster delivery of certain content — Oliver took to the airwaves again on Sunday night urging Internet users to tell the agency to leave net neutrality alone. (Warning: The video below contains profanity.)

John Oliver encourages people to voice displeasure to the FCC.

“Every Internet group needs to come together like you successfully did three years ago … gamers; YouTube celebrities; Instagram models; Tom from MySpace, if you’re still alive. We need all of you,” Oliver said.

“You cannot say you are too busy when 540,000 of you commented on Beyonce’s pregnancy announcement,” he said.

As further encouragement, Oliver’s team created a quicker way to navigate in the FCC website. Rather than searching for the specific page that solicits public comment on this topic, people can go to gofccyourself.com and click the “express” link on the right side to express their views.

The FCC’s electronic comment system crashed shortly after Oliver’s show aired Sunday, according to Demand Progress, a civil liberties group that supports the tough net neutrality oversight. The organization was “thrilled that Oliver spurred so much pro-net neutrality activism,” said executive director David Segal.

It wouldn’t be the first time net-neutrality excitement crashed the FCC’s system. In 2014, as the deadline for comments neared, a last-minute surge overwhelmed the website and led the agency to extend the filing period for three days.

But David Bray, the FCC’s chief information officer, said Monday that this time, the comment site was the target of malicious efforts to overload it with a large amount of traffic — a tactic known as a distributed denial-of-service attack — starting at midnight EDT.

“These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather, they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC,” Bray said.

In his segment, Oliver tried to rally support by portraying Internet service providers as eager to block competitors’ content. And he described Pai as a dangerous public official who has said he wanted to take “a weed whacker” to telecommunications regulations and vowed that tough net neutrality rules’ “days are numbered.”

“‘Days are numbered’ and ‘take a weed whacker’ are serial-killer talk,” Oliver said.

In his 2014 net neutrality piece, Oliver compared then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, to a dingo for initially pushing a compromise plan that fell short of the tough rules many consumer advocates were urging.

This time, Oliver aimed much of his fire at Pai, making fun of the Republican’s giant Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups coffee mug and frequent pop-culture tweets.

“Ajit Pai is the kind of guy who has a fun, oversized novelty mug and he is really proud of it,” Oliver said, later hoisting an even larger Reese’s mug.

But Pai is anything but the “fun, down-to-earth nerd” he portrays himself to be, Oliver said.

Pai — who has served on the FCC since 2012 and was appointed this year by President Trump to head the commission — has argued that the FCC’s decision in 2015 to subject broadband providers to the same utility-like oversight as conventional phone companies went against the light-touch regulatory approach that fueled the Internet’s growth.

He said the oversight imposed by the FCC’s Democratic majority by a 3-2 party-line vote was a political move, urged by then-President Obama, that “put the federal government in control of the Internet” and chilled broadband investment.

Verizon Communications Inc. and other broadband providers have promised to uphold net neutrality’s principles but object to the tougher oversight.

Oliver wasn’t buying any of that.

He echoed public interest groups in disputing that broadband investment has been affected. Oliver included audio of a Verizon executive’s comments to investors in 2014 that the tougher regulatory oversight “does not influence the way we invest.”

Oliver said Pai is helping carry out the new administration’s efforts to reverse Obama-era initiatives.

“It seems that Trump-era will basically Ctrl-Z everything that happened on Obama’s watch,” Oliver said. “I genuinely would not be surprised if one night Trump went on TV just to tell us he personally killed every turkey Obama ever pardoned.”

Read more: A brief, strange history of net neutrality (including a 'series of tubes,' a dingo and James Harden) »

Twitter: @JimPuzzanghera

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com



UPDATES:

1 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Demand Progress and from the FCC regarding problems with the FCC’s electronic comment filing system.

8:50 a.m.: This article was updated with information about gofccyourself.com and about Pai’s arguments against the current net neutrality rules.

This article was originally published at 7:15 a.m.

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