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September 10, 2014

If the internet had slow lanes, you’d still be waiting to read this article

by John_A

Today is the internet’s “Day of Action,” an organized protest aimed at the Comcasts and Time Warners of the world from internet denizens, organizations, and companies. And some of the internet’s biggies are on board: Netflix, Twitter, Dropbox, Reddit, Tumblr and more. Perhaps you noticed a widget on Netflix today (seen above)? That’s part of the protest: not actually slowing down websites (which would no doubt frustrate users), but helping to enlighten users who might not know what net neutrality is.

Wait — are you one of those people? That’s totally possible! Here’s a quick summary: net neutrality is the internet as it exists today. All websites are created equal — there are no websites that load noticeably faster or slower than others due to internet providers signing financial contracts with website owners/service providers. Today’s protest is about keeping things that way.

Okay okay, that “all websites are created equal” bit is only partially true: Netflix signed deals with several major internet service providers (ISPs) just this year. Netflix did as much because it provides a service that’s dependent upon fast, consistent internet speeds. As Netflix provided data shows (seen below), some ISPs began “throttling” the bandwidth Netflix required to maintain its service. After Netflix ponied up cash, those connections were mysteriously fixed.

But it’s not a mystery, right? Internet providers have monopolies in much of the United States. If Netflix wants to fix connection issues its users are having in various regions of the US, it has one option: work out a deal with the company that dominates that region to provide a “fast pipe.”

Rather, Netflix pays X Internet Company for a separate, dedicated line of bandwidth — what is known as “paid prioritization.” This sets a dangerous precedent and threatens the basis of an open internet: if Netflix has to pay for that kind of pipe, who’s next? Will Netflix pay for that access with each ISP? And since Netflix can afford that option, it freezes out competition: if Netflix competitors can’t afford to pay for a dedicated fast pipe, Netflix has a competitive advantage that can’t be matched. The argument goes that companies like Facebook and Netflix wouldn’t exist today if the open internet didn’t exist.

It’s kind of a huge mess, right?

That’s exactly why today’s Day of Action exists. It’s an effort to remind the millions of internet users in the US to get in touch with Federal Communications Commission head Tom Wheeler ahead of a major legislative decision this year that sets standards for how the internet operates. Day of Action’s official website gets even more specific: the coalition seeks to reclassify internet providers under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act (the whole thing is here in PDF if you’re so inclined).

Put more simply, the reclassification would disallow the concept of paid prioritization.

Wheeler and co. specifically asked for feedback following a vote earlier this year in favor of new, very open regulation governing how the internet works; the period for comment submissions ends on September 15th. The proposal, which passed 3-2, still has another hurdle to pass before becoming law: yet another vote.

So! If the proposal sounds bunk to you — read it right here — today is your day to tell the FCC how you feel. And maybe tell a friend! Just imagine if, say, pieces like this one were intentionally throttled by ISPs because it doesn’t present the ISPs in a positive light. We think that sucks, and we’re betting you do too.

[Image credit: Netflix, HBO (“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”), Netflix, Battle for the Net, Tumblr]

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