By Mason Johnson
The Internet has been in legislation limbo for the better part of 2014, and September 10th, it’s going to slowdown — but not really.
In a campaign dubbed Battle for the Net, protesters are asking both major websites and individuals to fight against America’s biggest cable companies in support of net neutrality, which is the belief that all data should be treated equally on the internet. Under net neutrality, your tiny blog gets the same speeds from your internet provider as every other website on the internet. You can get a better idea of the history of net neutrality here.
Battle for the Net’s argument is simple: If the FCC sides with cable companies on anti-net neutrality concepts like fast lanes — which would allow some websites to be faster than others — some of your favorite websites could suddenly slowdown.
“People love the Internet because it’s so varied and offers such a diversity of opinion and ideas,” said Evan Greer, Campaign Director of Fight for the Future. “If we lose net neutrality, we can expect the Internet to become more like Cable TV, where a small group of corporations get to choose which content most people see, and which content gets relegated to the ‘slow lane.'”
According to Greer, this type of tiered system wouldn’t only amount to censorship, but could threaten the future of free speech.
To combat this, Battle for the Net, which has been organized by Free Press, Engine, Fight for the Future and Demand Progress, want to cover the web with loading icons — the “spinning wheel of death” — throughout the day on September 10th.
This isn’t just individuals who will be displaying loading icons on their blogs and Twitter accounts, major websites have also signed up to participate with Battle for the Net, like Kickstarter, Etsy, Vimeo and, biggest of all, Netflix.
Besides being a symbol for what the future may hold for the Internet, Battle for the Net hopes people will see these loading icons as a call to action to share their comments on Net Neurtrality with the FCC.
To reiterate, these websites won’t literally be slower on September 10th. They’ll just be displaying the spinning icons that usually indicate a website is loading slowly, similar to the screenshot below.
The FCC had some net neutrality power over bandwidth providers through the 2010 Open Internet Order, but that was partially struck down by the United States Court of Appeals in January of this year.
Proponents of net neutrality say that it helps keeps the web equal when it comes to innovation — allowing for entrepreneurs to compete on a level playing field with giants like Facebook.
Opponents of net neutrality claim that the FCC does not have the right to regulate broadband providers.
For Chicago, where Comcast has control over the majority of the broadband market, the absence of net neutrality would have a large effect.
“When you only have one dominant network provider in a marketplace…” says Timothy Karr, Senior Director of Strategy for Free Press. “If that service provider decides to violate net neutrality, consumers can’t go to a competing provider who will respect their rights.”
“The additional problem that’s specific to Comcast, is that Comcast is also in the business of making online content, they own NBC Universal” Karr adds. “It’s in their interest to favor content that they own over content that’s provided by an online competitor.”
Publicly, Comcast says they support an open internet. With that said, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T have spent millions lobbying against net neutrality.
Regardless of your opinion on the Internet, Chairman Tom Wheeler is encouraging the public to share their views on net neutrality with the FCC here. They hope to have new rules in place before the end of the year.
UPDATE 9/10/2014 9:30am: The “effects” are apparent on Netflix and Vimeo, among other sites.