In Defense of the Great Indoors

The Sierra Club, the nation's most prominent environmental group, has a staunch opinion about net neutrality. That's a sign that you should, too.

Originally published in the issue of The Quinnehtukqut.

When you think of the , you think of the great outdoors. You might picture yourself in a redwood forest, watching one of the ancient trees stretch its limbs upward toward clean and clear skies, in the domains of lily white clouds, bald eagles and the occasional wind turbine; and all but feeling the venerable plant pushing its roots through clean soil, down into aquifers as pure as when John Muir walked over them. As you take a picture with your cell phone, you marvel that it reads No Service.

It may surprise you that the Sierra Club also takes a stance on the great indoors, too; specifically, on the Federal Communication Commission's reversal of the "net neutrality" rules that required Internet service providers to treat all traffic without discrimination or prioritization. The Sierra Club's Executive Director, Michael Brune, spoke through a press release issued : Today's ruling is nothing short of an assault on our democracy and the right to a free and open flow of information. The fact of the matter is that the Trump administration will stop at nothing to give massive handouts to its biggest corporate supporters no matter the cost.

The FCC had a pro-net neutrality stance as early as 2005. Finally, the FCC's Open Internet Order in 2015 officially reclassified ISPs as utilities instead of luxuries; that is, common carrier telecommunications services instead of information services.

This order followed over ten years of incidents where ISPs were caught throttling or stopping certain traffic. A few of many examples include:

  • Comcast slowed file sharing apps and blocked VPNs.
  • Madison River Communications blocked access to their competitor, Vonage.
  • AT&T required users to buy a more expensive data plan to use Apple's free video chat service, FaceTime.
  • Famously, Verizon was caught red-handed slowing down traffic from Netflix and YouTube, but not from its own paid video services.

All the while, the ISP could do this without telling their own customers. Unfortunately, the 2017 Restoring Internet Freedom Act made these practices legal once more.

Net neutrality was supported by the Sierra Club, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Netflix, Amazon, Reddit, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, AOL, and countless other Internet companies; along with over 98% of the 1.3 million unique comments posted on (including this author's) during the comment period. Companies opposed to a free and open Internet included Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, and Cablevision; as well as FCC chairman, Ajit Pai. An online poll by the software vendor Mozilla showed 73% of self-proclaimed Republicans supported net neutrality. Regardless, the repeal passed across party lines. As Mr. Brune stated after the 3-2 ruling: The American people will not be silenced. The Sierra Club and our three million members and supporters stand with all those who will continue this fight to protect a free and open internet.

Not all hope is lost. Less than an hour after the vote, the attorneys general of New York and Washington announced intent to sue the FCC. Since then, Connecticut's attorney general, George Jepsen, joined the lawsuit. The case is ongoing.


The Quinnehtukqut - May 2018