John Oliver talks big mugs and net neutrality


John Oliver makes it easy to let the FCC know how you feel about net neutrality and protecting it (after explaining a bit more about net neutrality).

This isn’t John Oliver’s first time at the net neutrality rodeo. As he reminded viewers at the beginning of his feature segment on Last Week Tonight, the issue actually formed the basis for the show’s fifth-ever episode.

That episode, as it turns out, helped push Last Week Tonight a little further into the public consciousness. People of the internet turned out in force to support Oliver’s call for better net neutrality protections. He even got “negged” by WGBH Boston and was briefly featured on TMZ, of all things.

So, why talk about it now? And what, exactly, is net neutrality?

As explained by Tay Zonday (the YouTuber of “Chocolate Rain” fame), net neutrality means that your internet service provider (ISP) can’t pick and choose what kind of content you can access. That means sneaky moves such as restricting competing sites and services to slower internet speeds is right out.

In response to growing concerns about net neutrality, the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission turned to Title I and Title II of the 1934 Communications Act. Essentially, entities classified under Title I are subject to less stringent rules than those categorized under Title II. The FCC moved many ISPs to Title II, meaning that they were now subject to greater regulation.

Verizon, one of the ISPs involved in the move, actually sued the FCC. However, the move proved to be largely unsuccessful – until now.

The issue is rearing its head yet again because – surprise! – the Trump administration wants to roll back these regulations. Oliver wondered if the administration was perhaps most interested in hitting CTRL-Z on anything Obama had ever done while in the White House, including pardoning all those turkeys at Thanksgiving. Trump’s got a lot of turkey sandwiches in his future, it seems.

Who’s Ajit Pai and why is his mug so big?

The administrations particular response to the increased regulations on net neutrality was to appoint Ajit Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, to head the FCC. To be entirely fair, Pai was appointed by President Obama, under the advice of current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Pai is notoriously anti-regulation. He’s once said that he wants to “take a weed whacker” to FCC rules. He is also notoriously, embarrassingly devoted to his oversized coffee mug.

Seriously, that mug shows up everywhere. Social media, interviews, even news conferences and speeches. Pai has even described the mug, which is decorated with a large Reese’s logo, as “infamous”. Oliver, however, was having none of that tiny mug business.

Seriously, though, behind the doofy persona, Big Lebowski quotes and annoying drinkware, Pai’s comments on net neutrality are concerning. He often plays dumb as to why the FCC would have wanted to move ISPs over to Title II in the first place. Incidents such as ones in which mobile providers blocked Google Wallet in favor of the now very unfortunately-named Isis Wallet app (since rebranded as Softcard).

What to do about net neutrality?

Pai has suggested that ISPs can voluntarily pinky-promise to play nice, perhaps by adding their promise to a terms of service. Yeah, you know, that terms of service document that no one reads and can be arbitrarily changed at any minute.

There’s the possibility that regulation could come down through Congress, but no one with half a brain would be willing to put much faith in the legislative branch right now. Certainly, Trump himself doesn’t seem to understand much about net neutrality, much less how anything on his computer beyond Twitter works.

What’s an intrepid internet citizen to do, then? Proposed changes to net neutrality rules are currently up for public comment on the FCC website. However, it’s unsurprisingly difficult for people to get to the actual commenting form.

The most intrepid amongst us would have to go to, then enter 17-108 as the proceedings number, and then manually find the form and enter their comments. We’re all sure that annoying number of tasks was purely incidental.

How to actually comment on net neutrality

If that seems like a little much, the Oliver and company have your back. Thanks to Last Week Tonight, all you have to really do is go to The site will directly take you to the form in question.

As Oliver concluded, there’s nothing really keeping you from spending five minutes filling out an internet form. After all, he claimed that the internet is evidence that “we have way too much time on our hands”.

Witness everyone who tweeted about May the 4th, or that 10 concerts you’ve seen meme on Facebook. 540 thousand people commented on Beyonce’s Instagram pregnancy announcement.

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So, “5 to 10 minutes of minor effort” is practically nothing in the face of all the stupid, time-wasting, soul-searing things we do on the internet every day. “Once more unto the breach, my friends,” said Oliver. Again, check out if you want to take part.