Internet Slowdown marks fight on net neutrality

Don’t be surprised if you go online tomorrow [Wed/10] and see a “loading” symbol – aka the proverbial “spinning wheel of death” – staring you in the face. No, that isn’t actually a technical problem – that’s what happens when geeks organize an online campaign.

Wed/10 marks the Internet Slowdown Day, in which sites across the web, many of which are based in San Francisco, will display the loading sign as a way to encourage web users to fight back against proposed rules that threaten net neutrality. Websites of companies and organizations ranging from Netflix to the Sierra Club will be participating in the digital show of opposition, to send a signal to the Federal Communications Commission, Congress, and the White House that the Internet should remain a level playing field.

In May, the FCC issued a proposal to allow Internet service providers to charge major companies, such as Amazon and Netflix, for faster access to consumers, creating so-called “Internet fast lanes.”

But as Evan Greer, a spokesperson for digital rights advocacy organization Fight for the Future, told the Bay Guardian, “We know that inherently that means there’s also a slow lane.”

The federal agency is now soliciting public comment on that proposal, with a deadline of Sept. 15.

Internet activists fear that as deep-pocketed companies seeking prioritized consumer access pile into the fast lanes, those without the ability to pay a premium will be relegated to the slow lane. And that sets a very bad precedent for the future of the Internet overall.

“Slowing down content is really tantamount to censorship,” Greer said. “What’s at stake here isn’t just about how fast or slow our videos load – it’s about the future of our democracy and the Internet’s role in it.”

The “spinning wheel of death” symbols won’t actually slow down access to participating websites, but the widgets will feature links allowing web users to send a petition to the FCC, Congress, and the White House.

“Everyone has a role in this, and everyone’s trying to pass the buck,” Greer noted. “Obama is saying, oh look, the FCC is an independent agency. Everyone is taking money from the telecom industry. Comcast has been donating to Republicans and Democrats across the aisle, and they’re gaining political influence because of it.”

Making matters worse, Greer said, is that Tom Wheeler, the chair of the FCC, was formerly a lobbyist for the National Cable and Telecom Association – the industry association that’s on the side of the companies advocating against the proposal that threatens net neutrality.

Other organizations involved in organizing the Internet Slowdown Day include Demand Progress, Free Press and Engine Advocacy.

And if you’re curious to learn more about net neutrality, no explanation is more fun to watch than John Oliver’s.