Battle for the Net

Battle for the Net

Wesley MurchisonThursday,18 September 2014

The Snap:

Last Wednesday, September 10th, to be exact, was Internet slowdown day. If you didn’t visit Netflix, Reddit or Kickstarter that day you probably missed the spinning buffer animation that gives you the impression that your Internet connection is running slow. The ruse was meant to be a symbolic slowdown of the Internet, a simulation of what’s to come if the Federal Communications Commission allows “paid priorization.” The goal was to galvanize users to send comments to the FCC in support of Net Neutrality, principally defined as preventing cable companies from building fast-lanes. By statistical accounts, the awareness campaign looks like a success, passing the previous record set by Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl.

The Download:

In May of this year, the FCC proposed a set of new rules that included language allowing for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to charge extra to content producers to deliver their data faster to users. In addition, the regulatory agency requested feedback on their Open Internet proposal. Technology advocates saw an opportunity to push their Net Neutrality cause — and thus Battle for Net Neutrality was born.

The major sponsors behind the campaign partnered technology heavyweights like Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Free Press and Fight for the Future with civic institutions like ACLU and Consumers Union. In addition, political veterans Demand Progress, MoveOn and Common Cause brought their years of experience in rallying supporters. The organizations were successful in recruiting technology companies that had a lot to lose if the symbolic slowdown, if done wrong, resulted in turning visitors away. The participation of online community Reddit and open-source software foundation Mozilla wasn’t surprising, considering their record on cyber-activism. But hosting companies Bluehost and DreamHost, along with web apps Foursquare and Netflix, added some real reach, potentially attracting the attention of small-business owners and uninformed consumers.

Battle for Net Neutrality is the second time technology companies have flexed their muscles. In January 2012, websites went dark to protest the antipiracy bills SOPA and PIPA. The blackout campaign, as it became called, succeeded in pressuring key legislative sponsors to pull their support, effectively killing the bills.

The success of this campaign did not have as much as an impact as the blackout, probably because it lacked the political theater of a blackout on such high-traffic sites as Google and Wikipedia in conjunction with politicians immediately bowing to pressure. (This go-round Google sent out an email alert to users on their Take Action platform but did not post any symbolic slowdown graphic on their website.)

This campaign, however, the target was twofold: the FCC and legislators. Stopping legislation is easier than getting an organization as opaque as the FCC to block new rules, not to mention implementing a revision of old rules at the same time, which gets to another side of Battle for Neutrality’s agenda. A close reading of Battle for Net Neutrality’s letter to Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, reveals that not only do they wish to block new rules allowing for fast-lanes, but they also what to reclassify ISPs as telecommunication services, which would require that they abide by the same common carrier rules as phone companies.

The Title II strategy is not without its problems. As the Atlantic puts it: “Another key part of Title II is that the FCC can selectively chose which pieces it’s going to apply to which type of company.” However, Title II is part of the Communications Act of 1934, making many of its regulations outmoded and bad for the Internet. The solution according to advocates is for the agency to exempt the Internet from the majority of rules. Some, however, see more broadband competition as a better solution to protecting the Internet than Title II Net Neutrality.

For right now, though, the members of Battle for Net Neutrality can relax in knowing their voices have been heard. The next step is to see how the FCC reacts to the more than 1.4 million comments and how Congress responds to the 1,000 calls per minute.

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Hat Tips:

Variety, FCC, Battle for the Net, The Atlantic, Time, Image Credit: Flickr

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