Telecom policy fights rarely lead to much excitement. They usually involve lawyers tossing such provocative words at each other as “common carrier” and “business data services.” But these days, if you so much as whisper the phrase “net neutrality,” all sorts of crazy things begin to happen.
Don’t believe us? Just take a survey of the past 48 hours.
The FCC got an anonymous bomb threat
Moments before members of the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal its own net neutrality rules, security guards stormed the room where the meeting was taking place. Alluding cryptically to a security situation, the guards forced everyone out of the room — officials, activists and journalists.
The hallways outside the room quickly grew packed with confused people, and although the FCC didn’t have any comment on the situation — many agency officials themselves looked bewildered — it soon became clear that security was taking the situation very seriously.
Later, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said that around 12:35 p.m., officials had received an anonymous phone call saying two bombs had been planted at the agency — one in the meeting room and another elsewhere — that were primed to explode within half an hour. The call prompted the sudden evacuation and a sweep by bomb-sniffing dogs.
This isn’t the first time security has become a story at the FCC. In one incident, a security guard made headlines when he allegedly roughed up a reporter for trying to ask a question. (FCC security on Thursday was more obliging, setting up a priority screening line for journalists looking to get into the meeting. The setup prompted the nerdier policy wonks in line to joke about FCC fast lanes, a nod to an earlier phase of the net neutrality fight.)
Hackers threatened FCC staff
In an email claiming to be from the hacking group Anonymous, hackers said they had obtained the personal information of many FCC staff, including all of the commissioners.
The authenticity of the email, which was sent to The Washington Post’s secure dropbox and numerous other media outlets and agency officials, is unclear. But a Twitter account also claiming to be associated with the group had earlier tweeted that Anonymous would “make these men realize what a terrible mistake they made,” threatening to “come after” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his allies.
The email included what the sender said was Pai's Social Security Number (partially redacted), home address and birth date. It alluded to the “darkest secrets” belonging to the other Republican FCC commissioners, Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr.
The same email also claimed that Anonymous had wired the FCC with explosives. It is unclear whether that threat was linked to the bomb scare DHS responded to. An FCC spokesman declined to comment on the email Thursday.
A congressman was clocked by a clock
As Recode's Tony Romm pointed out, the Washington Free Beacon posted footage Thursday of Democratic Rep. José E. Serrano (N.Y.) getting knocked offstage at a net neutrality rally by a giant prop clock. The words “Net Neutrality Wake Up Call” were written on the clock, which appeared to catch a gust of wind and toppled over.
Pai made a video for the Daily Caller
On the eve of the contentious vote to repeal net neutrality, the FCC chairman starred in an eccentric video published by the conservative news site the Daily Caller that featured him dressed as Santa Claus, wielding a lightsaber and clutching a fidget spinner to defend the repeal and mock the criticism against it. Some have described the video as cringe-worthy. Pai listed the "7 things you can still do on the Internet after net neutrality” and moved through each segment with props, costumes and memes. The last bit, “You can still ruin memes,” was its own version of the viral Internet video meme “Harlem Shake.” But the musician who created the song for “Harlem Shake” was not pleased.
In a tweet Thursday evening, Mad Decent, the record label behind “Harlem Shake,” said that neither it nor the producer and DJ Harry Rodrigues gave permission to the Daily Caller to use the music and do not agree with Pai's video message. “We have issued a takedown [and] will pursue further legal action if it is not removed,” the tweet said.
Rodrigues, who goes by the stage name Baauer, told Billboard on Thursday, “I support Net Neutrality like the vast majority of this country and am appalled to be associated with its repeal in any way.”
While the video posted to YouTube appeared to have been taken down on Friday morning, it was back online later in the day. In a post on the Daily Caller website, publisher Neil Patel, said that Google “had censored the video based on a bogus claim from a politically motivated man.” Google is YouTube's umbrella company, which is a subsidiary of Alphabet.
YouTube responded on Friday. "YouTube doesn’t determine who owns the rights to what content. That is between the parties involved -- the uploader, rights holders, and courts -- to determine. We do provide tools to rights holders and uploaders to help them mediate copyright claims," a company spokeswoman said. "We act quickly to remove content when notified as is required of us by law and, when we see that there is a potential case for fair use, we ask the claimant to make sure they’ve conducted that analysis."
Late night roasts Pai
Late-night comedians also took aim at Pai and the telecom corporations who stand to gain under the repeal.
On the “Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” host Colbert compared Verizon's and Comcast's promises not to block, slow down or prioritize Web traffic to the “shark lobby” promising not to eat people, despite pushing regulators to reclassify their mouths as “sleeping bags.”
“By killing net neutrality, Internet providers can basically do whatever they want, as long as they disclose to their users what exactly they do to Web traffic. So, get ready for more fine print from your Internet provider. At least you’ll have something to read while you wait for website to load,” Colbert joked.
He also lampooned Pai's video. Wearing shades and an offset baseball cap that said “Snapgram,” Colbert pretended to connect with millennials, or “chicken nugget teens” by exclaiming “Szechuan sauce!” and taking a selfie using an avocado as a camera.
On “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Kimmel called the FCC’s actions “despicable,” adding, “Big corporations are about to take full control of the Internet, so merry Christmas everybody.” “Late Night” host Seth Meyers played a rapid succession of clips of Pai using the term “light-touch regulation."
Pai responded to the criticism on “Fox and Friends” Friday morning, saying “those on the other side have literally nothing other to peddle than hysteria and misinformation and fear about the light-touch approach that we had for most of the Internet’s existence.”