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Is The Battle Won And Done For Those Who Fought For Net Neutrality?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All in favor, say aye.




UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The ayes have it.



It's not every day that you hear big cheers at an open meeting of the Federal Communications Commission, but that was the sound as the commission approved rules in favor of net neutrality online. Net neutrality means that broadband providers can't force different kinds of web traffic into fast and slow lanes. They have to treat every website equally. Broadband providers argue that will stifle innovation, and they're joined by some Republicans in Congress, like Texas Senator Ted Cruz.


TED CRUZ: Don't believe President Obama when he says if you like your Internet, you can keep your Internet.

RATH: Fact is, net neutrality has overcome a lot of opposition in the last year.

MAT HONAN: We all thought that net neutrality was dead and it looked like there were going to be fast and slow lanes on the Internet.

RATH: That's Mat Honan. He's San Francisco bureau chief for BuzzFeed News. So what changed? Honan says John Oliver should take some of the credit. Last year, he devoted an entire segment to net neutrality on his show "Last Week Tonight."


JOHN OLIVER: And I can't believe I'm about to do this. I would like to address the Internet commenters out there directly.


OLIVER: Good evening, monsters.


RATH: And Oliver told people to flood the FCC with public comments in favor of net neutrality. They did.

HONAN: Gosh, that guy maybe changed the debate with his segment that encouraged people to go on the FCC's website and comment. And so many did so that they even crashed FCC's website. It was kind of incredible.

RATH: And Mat Honan says all that attention means the Internet is no longer niche. It's a mainstream political issue.

HONAN: You know, I think that the Internet now is in everything we use. It's in the devices, like, on our kitchen countertops, not just our computers. It's all around. And that includes in politics. And people care about it because it's something that affects their lives in so many different ways. So when you talk about, you know, OK, well, if this rule goes into effect, your Internet might slow down or the things that you like on the Internet might slow down, that gets to people in the same way that gas prices going up get to them.

RATH: So, you know, it used to be you could have an easy time finding clueless comments about the Internet and technology coming from Congress. Have things fundamentally changed now? Are they engaged in technology in a way that's different now?

HONAN: I think that there's still a lot of cluelessness about technology. I mean, I work in technology and I don't always know what the heck is going on, right? But it's gotten a lot better. I think that what you saw in this past year was a very thoughtful discussion about this. Even the objections that were raised to this FCC vote were pretty thoughtful. This wasn't just written with the old-fashioned, you know, Internet-is-a-series-of-tubes type of mentality.

RATH: You also wrote about tech companies lobbying politicians. Now, with this newly politicized Internet, does that mean that they're going to be getting into the game even more - more money is going to be flowing to K Street?

HONAN: Oh, yeah. I mean, I don't think there's any question about that. Google has a pretty big office in Washington, D.C. now. Even Apple, which has been really standoffish, is lobbying now. Technology is too big of a bit too big of a business for them not to be lobbying now. Traditionally, Silicon Valley has not gotten overly involved in Washington. But I think basically any large tech company that isn't lobbying already is going to start, because there's so much money and it's touching people's lives in so many ways. And as politicians seek to regulate stuff, technology companies want to make sure that they've got a voice in keeping that from being done in a manner that's going to affect them negatively.

RATH: So the Internet has changed political discourse. What about the reverse? How is politics going to change the Internet?

HONAN: Well, you know, that's been happening for a while, like every thing from the Communications Decency Act to the SOPA and CISPA legislation where politicians have come in and tried to legislate the Internet, often in ways that I don't think they've totally understood. But, you know, I think that's hopefully changing as politicians use the Internet more. I mean, now it'd be pretty weird if you're in Congress and you don't have a smart phone, you know, or if you don't have an email account, if you're not using Google. And as everybody uses the Internet more in their day-to-day lives, hopefully it will get a lot smarter legislation.

RATH: Mat Honan is the San Francisco bureau chief for BuzzFeed News. He joined us from member station KQED. Mat, thank you.

HONAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.