A net neutrality protest is causing mass symbolic delays online, especially with huge websites that people rely on for entertainment and social networking such as Netflix, Reddit and Vimeo. Sept. 10, 2014 is the last day the FCC is accepting comments from the public on the issue of an open and protected internet. Online companies and personal websites are banding together to educate people about the possible future of the internet without net neutrality.
Net neutrality is the term used to describe an internet where every bit of information is treated as equal and just as important as every other bit. Facebook and a blog read by five people have the same right to travel through the web and reach your computer. Telecom companies cannot pick and choose whose information reaches consumers.
The main issue is how internet providers are classified. Under the 1996 Telecommunications Act they were classified as information services (like Twitter and Google). They fit better under the classification of telecommunications services like phone and cable networks which would place them under common carriage laws. Common carriage prohibits discriminating against information or tampering with data. The Federal Communications Commission treated broadband companies the same way as telephone companies. It had regulations about how they treated the information that passed through their hands. In January a federal court said that the FCC had overstepped its bounds as defined by current rules. The court told the FCC it needed to change its rules in order to regulate the broadband companies. However, instead of reclassifying and proposing strict regulations, Chairman Tom Wheeler developed a plan that gives telecommunication giants more direct control over content on the internet.
Although Wheeler’s proposals include stipulations which would ban slowing down or blocking a particular website, it opens the door for broadband providers to charge fees for special access. It may be thought of as a highway with special toll lanes. The speed limit may be 55 mph for all the lanes, but drivers who pay a few extra dollars for the toll lanes will likely move faster during rush hour due to fewer cars. The drivers who do not pay the toll will share the remaining lanes. During rush hours slow downs can be extreme. The main problem is that smaller companies will not be able to pay the necessary fees. It may be quick and easy to access the Domino’s website to order pizza but not be able to find the website for the local pizzeria.
One problem is that there are so few telecommunication companies today. Through mergers and purchases they have reduced in number and grown in size. There is no longer enough competition to ensure consumers are in control of the market. It can be beneficial to have the streamlined, efficient service provided by a few large companies, but there is no guarantee they will continue to put consumer needs ahead of profits. Most people are so reliant on the internet for their daily business they have no choice but to take what the internet service providers offer. Disconnecting is not a viable option. Consumers depend on the FCC to enforce appropriate regulations to keep the internet open for all.
The internet is slowing down today, causing mass delays online due to the net neutrality protest. At least 67 web companies and countless more blogs and personal sites are joining together to spread the message of net neutrality to the public before it is too late. Sites such as Netflix, Reddit and Vimeo will display a spinning wheel or loading icon to symbolize how the web may evolve if it is deregulated into fast lanes and slow lanes. If a user clicks on the icon he or she will be directed to a site with directions on how to take action to keep net neutrality. The protest is aimed at education, not inconvenience.
The hope is that the public can actually affect policy. If enough people flood the FCC with email and phone calls in favor of net neutrality then Wheeler’s proposals should not be passed. Only an overwhelming citizen response has any hope of combating well-paid telecom lobbyists.
The internet providers have argued that reclassifying broadband and subjecting it to government imposed regulations could limit investment and innovation. They have expressed support for Wheeler’s proposal and some new regulations that come with it in exchange for greater autonomy.
Netflix is one of the few heavy users of bandwidth that firmly supports net neutrality. Netflix is asking the FCC to examine and regulate peering; the special connection between large companies like Google and Facebook and broadband providers. They set up dedicated routers inside data centers and servers within the internet service providers in order to speed their content. Smaller companies complain they already have a fast lane through this back-end interconnection.
The issue of net neutrality has deep implications. Does the public trust telecommunication companies to manage the internet, or does it trust the federal government to enforce regulations for the public good? If people wait too long to get information and take a stand they will lose control over the decision. The net neutrality protest is causing mass symbolic delays online, especially with large websites like Netflix. These companies hope to give the public a taste of what is to come should net neutrality be lost.
By: Rebecca Savastio