A packed house, heckling, lines out the door and protesters forcibly removed — Federal Communications Commission rulemaking votes are usually not this lively.
A large knot of protesters maintained their vigil outside the FCC building Thursday morning while hecklers chided commissioners inside before the closely watched vote on net neutrality. Many of the protesters said they feared the policy shift could favor deep-pocketed users and undermine the freewheeling nature of the Web.
“I want to let you know that this is a moment of crisis in our democracy,” one protester said at the start of the hearing. “We are not seeing the people ruling any longer.”
“You’re trying to destroy our First Amendment rights to free speech and free press,” another man yelled as he was taken out of the room.
Hundreds of people camped outside the FCC building in Southwest Washington in the week before the hearing to personally voice their opinions to officials.
ABC News reported that commissioners met with protesters from the “Occupy the FCC” encampment ahead of the hearing, and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler took a moment to address the tumult during Thursday’s meeting.
“Thank you to those who feel so strongly about this. They have been living in tents outside the building to talk to me about this,” he said.
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn noted that she had received hundreds of letters, emails and concerned phone calls on the issue, and assured that their voices would be heard now that the proposals were up for public comment.
“When the chairman hits the gavel after the vote is cast on this item, it will signal the start on 120 days of unique opportunity,” Ms. Clyburn said. “Use your voice and this platform to continue to be heard.”
But as the gavel struck, protesters were on their feet shouting, their words drowned out by Mr. Wheeler signaling the proposal would move forward.