NASCAR fans really hate it when you take away their net neutrality. After Federal Communication Commission chairman Ajit Pai announced on Nov. 21 his plans to reverse away Obama-era open-internet rules, a post on net neutrality raced to the the top of Reddit’s NASCAR forum becoming the subreddit’s most popular post ever—by a long shot.
The post, headlined “American Racing Fans, Net Neutrality effects [sic] us all, Ajit Pai is worse than Brian France, call your local representatives,” compares NASCAR’s oft-derided CEO Brian France (who tenure has seen declining ratings and attendance for the sport) with the FCC chairman.
The post had received 60,000 net upvotes and 460 comments by Nov. 27 before being closed for commenting. That compares to just 6,836 upvotes for the next-most upvoted post in r/Nascar.
It’s a small but revealing indicator in the fight over net neutrality. Political polarization in the US has reached record levels in recent years, but net neutrality seems to be one of the rare issues uniting Republicans and Democrats. A survey (pdf) by Freedman Consulting this year found 73% of Republicans, 80% of Democrats, and 76% of independents want to keep the open internet rules passed during the Obama Administration. In policy terms, those rules gave the FCC the ability to ensure internet service providers do not block, slow, or otherwise discriminate against certain content or applications.
On the Reddit thread, commenters traded tips on how to contact representatives, and shared links to a Battle for the Net campaign that has reportedly logged hundreds of thousands of calls to elected officials calling for the FCC to reverse course. “I don’t care if someone is left or right…this anti-net neutrality issue is one that will make all Americans suffer,” writes one r/NASCAR poster. “Only a handful of ISP executives would benefit from this, I just really hope that the whole thing falls apart just like it has in the past.”
The backlash may threaten Republicans’ prospects in the US midterm elections next year. “There’s a movement afoot that Republican members of Congress ignore at their peril,” says Ryan Singel at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. Democrats may make it an issue in 2018 when all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 seats in the Senate will be contested.
Singel pointed to the public blowback Congress experienced after it stealthily repealed internet privacy rules in 2016 (paywall). The legislation reversed a ban that would have prevented Internet providers such as Comcast from selling customers’ browsing histories without their consent. After the law passed along party-line votes with Republicans in the majority, there were furious confrontations between constituents and their representatives at town hall meetings.
That may happen again if the FCC follows through on its promise to undertake an agency vote on the proposals on Dec. 14. Pai, a former lobbyist for Verizon, defended the new rules in a statement (pdf), saying they’re meant to stop the federal government from “micromanaging the internet,” and to encourage investment in rural broadband. But the cracks are already appearing. Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine broke with party consensus to oppose the rules last week, reports the Bangor Daily News.
Clarification: The article clarified that Singel noted Democrats already plan to make Republican’s vote to allow ISPs to sell customers’ browser history a mid-term election issue. It is unclear if net neutrality will become a campaign issue as well.