Net neutrality, the idea that data across the Internet should be treated equally, has made it possible to find great stories on reddit, Imgur and Boing Boing, fund a project on Kickstarter and watch Netflix. An Internet Slowdown protest organized by Fight for the Future Wednesday will attempt to raise awareness on the state of the Internet and how it could change drastically if laws that would let Internet service providers create “fast lanes” of access are adopted.
In January, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against federal rules requiring broadband providers to treat all Internet traffic equally. The decision potentially would allow Internet service providers to throttle Web traffic and charge tiered pricing for bandwidth-heavy services like video streaming or gaming. Critics say such changes would undermine the openness of the Web.
“The Internet that made Boing Boing possible -- that made everything we love about the net possible -- relies on network neutrality. Letting the telcoms operators -- consistently voted the worst companies in America -- decide who wins and who loses online is an insane policy decision, worse than putting the fox in charge of the hen house. It's putting the Ebola pathogen in charge of the whole ‘world,’" Cory Doctorow, science-fiction author and Boing Boing co-editor, said in an email interview.
Internet Slowdown Protest
Many sites, including reddit, Netflix, Mozilla and even Pornhub, will feature Wednesday a loading icon and messages discussing net neutrality as part of the so-called Internet Slowdown protest.
"What’s important here is, these sites are joining because they’re jumping on board with a huge groundswell and they know their users care about this, they know that other websites and companies care about this and we, as organizers, worked really hard to create a scenario where this many companies, websites and organizations all come together and agree on one thing; that we need to reclassify the Internet so we can protect it for the public good," Evan Greer, campaign manager for Fight for the Future, said in an interview with International Business Times.
Waiting For Sites To Load And Buffering
While there is plenty of support for net neutrality, the large-scale protest planned for Wednesday did not happen overnight.
"I can tell you, just a few short months ago organizing on this issue, it was very difficult to get anyone, whether companies or the media or just individuals talking about real net neutrality, through Title II reclassification, which is what we are fighting for here," Greer said. "It’s exciting to see that, just a few short months after we camped out in front of the FCC in tents during ‘Occupy the FCC’ and continued to bombard them with online action, we now have this really massive showing from the Internet pushing very specifically for the only real mechanism for lasting net neutrality, which is Title II."
Title II is the reclassification of ISPs as common carriers by the FCC, which would prevent companies from charging for fast lanes.
"With the Comcast merger, you’re getting at something really critical here. Critics and skeptics will say, ‘Hey, if you don’t like what Comcast is doing, go ahead and use a different ISP. Vote with your money.’ But, as all of know, the vast majority of the people in the country don’t really have much choice when it comes to who connects them to the Internet, because of the current situation with the cable monopolies in the United States," Greer said. "The Comcast merger definitely illuminates that, but it makes it clear that we need a deeper solution here, we don’t need something that is being pushed by the telecoms, that they have approved, that they are clearly supporting and can get around."
Net neutrality has had renewed interest following the proposed Time Warner-Comcast merger, which would combine two of the largest Internet service providers in the U.S. "Tech policy issues can be really abstract. I think we're in some ways lucky working on net neutrality because, basically everyone hates waiting for sites to load. My 4-year-old will shake his fist at the computer screen if he's trying to watch a documentary and it's loading and he'll yell, 'Comcast!'" Greer said.
For Greer, the Internet Slowdown protest goes beyond speed. The diversity of websites and choices could also be limited by the proposed legal changes.
"It's very clear it affects everyone, you don't have to be a gung-ho activist or own your own business or website to get that you want to be able to wake up tomorrow and access the same websites that you've always been able to access and not have some of them indefinitely loading while your ISP encourages you to connect to services and content they have carefully chosen for you," Greer said. "If we lose net neutrality, we lose that fundamental, underlying principle that has made the Internet such a platform for not only expression and rebellion and creativity but for innovation and creating basic services that are super useful for humanity. We have to ask, not only what the economy will lose but will we, as a society, lose if we don't get the next Craigslist or the next Netflix or the next social media channel."