Much of the internet went on a “go-slow” protest on Wednesday, as some of the world’s largest tech companies began a protest over proposals that could create fast web lanes for some companies.
Tech firms including Netflix, Etsy, FourSquare, KickStarter, Mozilla, Reddit, PornHub and Vimeo installed a widget on their sites to show how they believe the internet would look if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overturns “net neutrality” rules.
The FCC has been forced to rewrite its rules on governing the internet after a series of court defeats at the hands of cable and telecom companies. Wednesday’s protests are against one proposal that would allow cable firms to create “fast lanes” for paying customers who use a lot of bandwidth. Critics charge that move would end net neutrality – the concept that the internet is a level playing field and internet service providers can not discriminate against any individual, organisation or company.
Twitter, Tumblr and Google also issued statements in support of net neutrality. September 15 is the deadline for comments to be submitted to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. Namecheap, the domain name registrar, and Vimeo put up videos in support of the campaign.
“The internet was designed to empower people. To get online, you need to use an internet access provider. But once you’re online, you decide what to do and where to go. Anyone, anywhere can share their opinions freely – and any entrepreneur, big or small, can build, launch and innovate without having to get permission first,” Derek Slater, Google’s policy manager, said in an email.
He encouraged people to sign up for their Take Action campaign in support of net neutrality. So far 3 million people have signed up.
Senators Ron Wyden and Angus King Tweeted their support. “Right now, the FCC is in the process of crafting new rules. Rules that many Americans, members of Congress, innovators, and myself hope will protect net neutrality once and for all. Earlier this year, I submitted my comments to the FCC, making clear that the only way to effectively protect Net Neutrality – the foundation of the Internet – is to reclassify broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act,” Wyden wrote in a blogpost.
Reclassifying broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act would give the FCC far greater powers over cable companies and would effectively allow high speed internet to be regulated more like water, electricity or other utilities.
The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), which lobbies on behalf of cable giants Comcast, Time Warner and others, called the protest “a PR stunt”. It is lobbying hard against any reclassification that gives the FCC more power.
“Even after setting aside the fact that cable companies are supportive of reasonable net neutrality rules, Battle for the Net’s mission statement and the fundamental premise protest day are absurd. Why would the cable industry, which has spent billions upon billions to expand infrastructure, to improve network efficiency, to connect 93 percent of Americans and to increase speeds 1500 percent over the last decade, be actively working to slow down the Internet? It doesn’t make sense,” NCTA wrote in a blogpost.
Ahead of Monday’s deadline for submissions to the FCC organisers have called on supporters to spend the day calling Congress to lobby the FCC to protect neutrality.
Evan Greer, co-founder of Fight for the Future, a pressure group helping to organise the protest day, said in an email: “Net neutrality is tough to explain to people, so we wanted to organize an action that actually shows the world what’s at stake. I think the three most hated words on the internet right now are ‘Please wait, loading … ’
“Unless internet users unite in defence of net neutrality, we could be seeing those dreaded ‘loading’ wheels a lot more often on some of our favourite websites, while monopolistic companies get to decide which content gets seen by the most people.”
Several other large internet companies are expected to back the day of action. Two of the world’s biggest porn sites, Pornhub and RedTube, promised “in-your-face” support.
“We’ll be displaying an official widget from battleforthenet.com. We won’t be shutting down, or streaming your porn slower. There will be a big in-your-face message that users will need to close. We hope to reach around 50m people on Sept 10,” a Pornhub spokeswoman wrote on Reddit.
Pornhub and RedTube are owned by Mindgeek, a Luxembourg-based conglomerate that claims to be one of the top five bandwidth consumers in the world, generating 1.7bn visits per month.
The organizers, Fight for the Future and Demand Progress, are directing people to call or email policymakers with their concerns. A similar campaign led to the FCC being flooded with comments on the net neutrality legislation. After comedian John Oliver broadcast an attack on the proposals the FCC received so many comments that at one point its systems collapsed under the strain.
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