05/15/2014 02:13 pm ET Updated Jul 14, 2014

Net Neutrality Advocate Speaks Anonymously About the Upcoming FCC Vote on a 'Pay to Play' Internet

He asked me to call him Colin Gallagher. Posting as ABISprotocol on github, he has many names and many handles among many online platforms, but today it's just Colin. And he, along with thousands of other advocates for free speech and a free Internet, are genuinely concerned about the upcoming Federal Communications Commission's vote on Thursday, May 15, 2014 to place some constraints on so-called Internet 'fast lanes,' while still leaving open the possibility of a 'pay to play' Internet that only the well-connected and well-funded can afford, resulting in the possibility of legal censorship of online content. Due to increased public outcry, and a week-long "Occupy the FCC" protest on the front steps of their building, a request for a delay on the vote has been issued, but at last count, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is standing firm on going forward with the vote.

In a refreshing twist, especially in America, this isn't a partisan issue by any means. From religious to political to creative to tech, liberal and conservative organizations alike have spoken publicly in favor of net neutrality, and against Internet fast lanes of any kind that gives specific organizations preference and power over Internet content and access. This issue affects everybody, and I'm not ashamed to admit as a writer, I am openly biased as well. So as an ongoing issue that will come up again and again, I went to Colin to clarify what's at stake and what solutions may be found.

This is the transcript of my interview with Colin Gallagher conducted on May 14, 2014, who is taking steps to ensure the Internet remains uncensored, regardless of the vote. Due to length constraints, the transcript is condensed in places, while keeping Colin's intention and meaning within context.

1) If you can tell me, what is your real name, profession, area of expertise? If not, what name would you prefer I call you and how would you identify yourself?

Like a growing number of people, I have a multifaceted identity. For this interview, you may call me Colin.

2) What is your position on the net neutrality issue?
Net neutrality: I heard a man once say, "Ah, yes, politics -- where greed wears the mask of morality." And whoever he was, he was right. Net neutrality as we hear it being discussed today is a great deal about greed. It is tremendously greedy for anyone to provide unequal lanes in what should be a great digital information road towards equality.

But this is not the first time that we have had to address this issue of net neutrality. Indeed, in the FCC proceeding titled ""In the Matter of Preserving the Open Internet Broadband Industry Practices" created in late 2009, gathered nearly 115,000 comments, and my comments in that proceeding included references to net neutrality and open internet as contemplated at that time.

These issues are therefore not new. People have long been demanding the FCC adhere to open principles and provide a full and true net neutrality as well as acting to help stop government-sponsored cell shutdowns.

Some revisions to the plan understand [sic] may involve banning fast lanes and prohibitions on deals that are not in the public interest. But the FCC has not been very good at acting in the public interest so far, and has not been responsive at addressing concerns of communities that transcend not only state boundaries, but national boundaries as well.

It's very difficult for anyone to trust the FCC at this stage, and people are rightly concerned about the future of the web in the United States and indeed elsewhere.

3) If the revisions to the 'fast lane' option being voted on tomorrow [Thursday] by the FCC pass, how will that affect Internet freedom?

Although these rules are now postponed [unconfirmed] due to public outcry, they'll be back - typically when the public least expects it. So... [sic] expect it.

Firstly, the pay-to-play concept that pervades modern life is not unique to the FCC, but it will affect everything from what you access in the modern web to what you can easily read or purchase for streaming and later playback.

You should be the only arbiter, to be quite frank, of what you may access. This is not an easy concept to grasp, but the web as it evolves has the capacity to mitigate profound harms, and build incredible social goods, without the presence of government or corporate actors, and with simply the presence of various unique and evolving networks of peers.

Therefore, if the FCC does act to allow a Fast-lane or pay-to-play, or a more limited scenario that largely prohibits 'pay to play' but would still permit such scenarios to continue "in some circumstances," it's entirely possible that the outrage that this would cause, would result in many more people moving to much less censored peer-to-peer frameworks. For new web frameworks, this involves MaidSafe, for financial networks, this involves Bitcoin and similar systems. In other words, the harder that the federal government makes it for people to access good content, the more people will find innovative and decentralized ways to get what they want, anyway.

Thus the solution to this problem, paradoxically, will occur outside regulation, with the advent of new technologies, even though the push for laws in the public interest still continues.

4) To what extent did you give testimony on this issue? Which country, government, committee hearing, etc. ... and why?

Primarily I gave testimony in the United States, although I also gave written testimony outside the United States. I did so because I cared about the issues as they arose in different federal hearings. I've now decided that my time is better spent on github, which is a platform for contributing to software sollutions [sic] that may help our future together.

The following is my comment... on the Net Neutrality proceeding which I submitted to them some several days ago, and it contains references to the various hearings I've given testimony in.

The FCC has received my below comment and has sent me confirmation that they've acknowledged it.

"To Chairman Tom Wheeler and the FCC Commissioners--
Some very long while ago -- in fact, on July 21, 2004 during the Federal Communications Commission's Public Hearing on Broadcast Localism, conducted at the third floor of the Steinbeck Forum at One Portola Plaza, Monterey California -- I submitted testimony, in person, and in writing (RE.: RM-10803), for the record ... that "The decrease in localism which we have seen over time is directly proportionate to the efforts to increase media ownership. Increased ownership, and cross-ownership of media broadcasting corporations and mechanisms, is problematic in American society. It is problematic not only because it places critical broadcast decisions in the hands of fewer and fewer people (thus decreasing the level of diversity in broadcast decisions, and hampering the democratic process), but as well, because any decision to increase media ownership will ultimately result in a decrease in the ability of media in America as a whole to meet technical parameters necessary to allow expeditious increase in service (broadcast) and permitting (local and national)."

Much later, I filed with the FCC, on Sept. 6, 2011, an Emergency Petition for Declaratory Ruling that Disconnection of Telecommunications Services Violates Intent and Specific Provisions of the Communications Act and the Telecommunications Act, as well as Specific Rights of the Person. This Emergency Petition was confirmed as received by the FCC on Sept. 9, 2011 and was later made part of Proceeding 12-52 (DA 12-311)... Unfortunately, the FCC has failed to respond with a ruling in the matter of Proceeding 12-52 (DA 12-311) which was established ostensibly to seek comments on "certain wireless service interruptions" which involved illegal shutdowns of wireless internet and cellular service by SFBART and its agents.

Now we see the FCC, instead of taking a firm hold over the issues that it should be taking, stepping back and allowing a few players to dictate what will happen in a pay-to-play version of net neutrality. What is happening at the FCC? You [FCC] should be ashamed of yourselves, seriously. This is why we are spending more time writing code (github, etc.) for decentralized versions of alternative internet (such as MaidSafe) or new currency systems (Bitcoin, Darkwallet, and so forth) - not because you are totally incapable of doing policy for US communications, but because apparently, you won't do it in the public interest, and by the way, it seems to me, the crowd (myself included) is better at designing our future than you are. IMHO [in my honest opinion].

Net neutrality principles are of the utmost importance and anything violating open internet principles is unacceptable. The FCC should use it's [sic] authority to regulate the internet as a telecommunications service to protect consumers and enshrine Net neutrality... I am very concerned about any paid prioritization or proposed 'pay to play' rule -- destroying Net neutrality principles is not an option. This new rule will change the nature of the equal and open internet, while creating real barriers to entry that will stifle innovation.

5) How did you become involved in this issue to the extent they would allow you to testify?

I was aware of the hearings and due to my awareness I inserted myself in a place where I was allowed to make a certain level of written statements. This engagement has been of dubious utility, so I recommend people work on technological solutions to circumvent government, instead, by learning to code and then publishing their results on github or another platform.

6) From a practical standpoint, do you believe net neutrality can be achieved and/or retained through a constant state of vigilance, or do you envision at least some regulation of the Internet with some corporate/government interference as an inevitability?

We must always assume that there will be corporation-state actors, who behave as though there are nation-states that will always exist. However ... It is mathematically impossible for governments to stop the network effect. Censorship, surveillance, and various types of abuse of systems will always occur, but if history is any indication, we will see a tendency towards decentralization...

7) What is your solution to achieve/retain net neutrality?
I believe everyone needs to work to come up with their own solutions and find others who are willing to work to build alternative communication systems. Thus from this have come MaidSafe and Ethereum in an economy where Bitcoin is emerging. Alternate systems that do not rely upon the web as we know it will help ensure net neutrality for the long run, especially for regions of the globe where internet access is frequently unavailable or is routinely denied to large number[s] of people without any reason...

8) Do you consider yourself to be an Anon and does some faction of Anonymous have a position on this issue? What is it?

There is no particular position on this issue ... If you wish to express yourself anonymously you should be able to ... If you do, what name or organization do you choose to do that? Did you give under the umbrella of an aid organization? Maybe you are anonymous, then. What is anonymous? No-one can say. Everyone can say...


[UPDATE: The procedure to consider Internet Fast Lanes to prioritize paid content on the Web passed on Thursday, May 15, 2014 by a 3-2 vote. Another vote will take place in four months after public comments/opinion has been assessed. Final rules will be established thereafter.]