When a coalition of nonprofit organizations, civil rights activists and policy wonks came together to fight for net neutrality in 2014, they faced an uphill battle.
Led by the Ford Foundation and the Media Democracy Fund, the coalition understood that the issue was complex and unfamiliar to the public. The opposition included powerful companies with enormous wealth and lobbying power. To tackle these disadvantages and gain broad support, the coalition asked Spitfire to coordinate a multifaceted campaign strategy that included an intense effort to build momentum in the media and through various digital platforms.
Spitfire developed a campaign plan that identified the influencers, barriers and opposition and recommended how best to shift the current policy landscape. We worked with the coalition to reframe the issue and create a consistent drumbeat of messages focused on free speech, opportunity, diversity and innovation. These themes resonated with our audiences and helped mobilize grassroots groups and communities of color as well as influential tech leaders, including Etsy, Kickstarter, Tumblr and Twitter. Through smart media pitches and orchestrated online efforts, we leveraged these diverse voices to demonstrate broad support for a free and open internet.
The FCC’s ruling in February 2015 – reclassifying internet access as a public utility and providing the strongest protections for equal access to the internet – was the ultimate win for the coalition.
With a multifaceted policy strategy, we targeted a range of potential influencers and decision makers on the issue – from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to the White House to Congress – that could be swayed by the power of the people instead of the power of money. We monitored conversations happening on social media to gauge the flow of public opinion and reacted quickly to challenge or reinforce the conversation. Our social media efforts not only guided our own campaign decisions, but also enabled us to show decision makers who was on our side. As public support grew, it became harder for the ultimate decision maker, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, to ignore the campaign.
To achieve the big victory of preserving net neutrality, Spitfire knew the coalition needed a series of smaller wins. We coordinated creative campaigns over several media cycles to keep the issue front and center for more than a year. When President Obama made a public statement on net neutrality, we were ready to capitalize on the attention and pivot the pressure toward the FCC and Congress.
The FCC’s ruling in February 2015 – reclassifying internet access as a public utility and providing the strongest protections for equal access to the internet – was the ultimate win for the coalition. A blitz of positive media coverage surrounding the vote and a growing and lengthy list of prominent net neutrality supporters solidified our success and reinforced that our efforts made a meaningful impact in shifting the national opinion on net neutrality.
Spitfire kicked back into action when the ruling was challenged by cable and telephone companies in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in April 2015. Over the course of the year, we coordinated the coalition’s response to this challenge and the court proceedings that followed. This included organizing a press call immediately following the oral arguments in December – where both sides argued their case in front of the judges – to convey the coalition’s optimism that the FCC’s rules would prevail in court.
Our efforts proved victorious once more when the court upheld the FCC’s protections on June 14, 2016, in the historic case, U.S. Telecom Association v. FCC. Immediately following the decision, Spitfire organized the press call for the advocates and their lawyers to brief the press on this major victory. Spitfire continues to work alongside the coalition, organizing crucial follow-up steps and preparing for the next attack on our open internet.