Net neutrality – what does it really mean?
The country’s largest tech companies on Wednesday will try to mobilize users in an online protest to fight the reversal of Obama-era rules that govern Internet access. And they’ll do it with GIFs.
The “Net Neutrality Day of Action” refers to the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. Internet Service Providers, such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, should not be able to block, speed or slow down legal websites — or give preferential treatment to others, including their own.
ISPs say they wouldn’t do this, anyway, but in 2015, the Federal Communications Commission implemented regulations to prohibit that behavior. A groundswell of support for Net Neutrality, stemming in part from Internet forums like Reddit, made these rules a popular cause. The fear is that, without them, ISPs will wield too much control over how and what users see by charging extra for faster speeds.
The FCC under the leadership of Trump-appointee Ajit Pai has proposed a reversal of these regulations, which he’s said unfairly burden the ISPs and are archaic for relying on utility-style regulation.
The protest, supported by big web companies including Facebook, Amazon and Snapchat, intends to draw attention to the issue just days before the open comment period on the proposed regulations ends. In the days since the FCC opened its website for feedback, the proposal has gotten over 5 million comments, in part due to Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver instructing his viewers to let regulators know where they stand.
Pai has said he agrees with the basic principles of net neutrality, but believes the government should not impose preemptive regulations on ISPs.
Here is what you need to know.
What is Net Neutrality Day of Action?
July 12 is the set date for this day of action, where Internet websites will attempt to show users what the web would look like if net neutrality regulations are reversed.
This movement, also named Battle for the Net, is being organized by three organizations that aim to protect net neutrality rules: Fight for the Future, Free Press Action Fund and Demand Progress. Also involved: Vimeo, Etsy, Airbnb, the ACLU, Spotify, Yelp, Twitter, OKCupid, Dropbox and Pinterest.
One large lobbying group, the Internet Association, which represents tech companies including Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, has prepared a series of Net Neutrality GIFs to drive home the importance. For instance, in one, the group tries to rally Internet users with a clip of a character from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air doing a somersault with the words: “Do you like the internet? Great, I do too! Here’s how you can help save it.”
Websites and apps will post alerts that encourage users to send a comment to the FCC and Congress about protecting net neutrality rules. These alerts will show scenarios that their supporters warn could happen if net neutrality regulations are reversed, such as slow loading of content, blocked symbols or having to pay to upgrade to better service. Expect to see memes posted to Instagram, social media avatars that have been replaced by the loading symbol, and yes, cats.
Will this slow down my Internet?
No. Nothing will actually slow down your Internet connection. Their goal is to show what could happen and encourage users to send their comments in without leaving the website they were visiting. The alerts will only show up once and users can click out of it.
Who is participating?
The Battle for the Net website lists 187 websites, companies and organizations that confirmed they are participating on Wednesday, including Amazon, Twitter, Snapchat and Netflix, which was on the sidelines when the protest was first announced.
“Netflix’s position remains the same: we support strong net neutrality protections, even if we are at less risk because of our popularity. For years, we have been supporting through the Internet Association, and earlier this year, we outlined our support in our Q4 2016 earnings letter. There are other companies for whom this is a bigger issue, and we’re joining this day of action to ensure the next Netflix has a fair shot to go the distance,” Netflix said in a statement.
What impact do the organizers hope to have?
Organizers hope to educate Internet users on net neutrality so they can share their comments with the FCC and Congress before current rules are overturned
“We’ve been against bigger foes,” said Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future. “The internet has shown its ability to protect itself and intends to do so again.”
Fight for the Future plans to organize more meetings and visit Congress.
Have there been net neutrality protests before?
The Day of Action echoes a similar protest supporting net neutrality in 2014, Internet Slowdown Day. Websites displayed a spinning “loading” symbol on their homepages to symbolize how users might experience slowdowns without ISP regulations. The FCC passed net neutrality regulations the next year.
Follow USA Today’s Madeline Purdue on Twitter @madelinepurdue and Rachel Sandler @rachsandl.
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