GIF Source: Fight for the Future
Why aren't the images loading? Why is Orange is the New Black buffering? What is going on? Your web browsing experience may feel a whole lot different. Some of your favourite websites may appear to be broken and a lot of people will be talking about net neutrality. Here's a rundown of what this "Day of Action" is all about.
What Is Net Neutrality?
The idea is that all data travelling across the internet should be treated equally. Without net neutrality regulations, ISPs could legally throttle traffic on websites that don't pay for the privilege of being given preferential treatment, creating "internet fast lanes." Or they could charge individual consumers extra cash to visit data-hungry sites like YouTube. A company like Verizon also might suddenly decide to slow Gmail to a crawl in an effort to get users to switch to its subsidiary Yahoo's mail service. ISPs already have consumers over a barrel because most people don't have much of a choice when it comes to which corporation they want to use. Without net neutrality rules, the internet would be decidedly worse.
In 2015, the FCC decided to set new net neutrality rules that would classify internet service as a Title II utility and serve as a legal framework for the agency to prevent throttling. There are still ways for high-traffic, high-bandwidth sites like Netflix to receive prioritisation on a network, but in general, the rules that the FCC decided to adopt were considered adequate for the protection of net neutrality.
In January, Ajit Pai, an opponent of net neutrality and former lawyer for Verizon, became the new head of the FCC. With a new conservative majority, the FCC's voting commission decided to move forward with a plan to end those 2015 rules.
What is this Day of Action?
The Day of Action is a protest that anyone can participate in. On Wednesday, July 12, a group of some of the most powerful companies in tech will let their support for net neutrality be known. Each company will decide how they would like to protest the upcoming repeal of the FCC's net neutrality rules. Individuals who support net neutrality are also encouraged to make some noise.
Why is it happening?
This protest follows similar online campaigns, like the "Internet Slowdown Day" and "Internet Blackout Day." Respectively, the protests were credited with helping to get the 2015 rules enacted and killing the egregious SOPA/PIPA legislation.
Organisers hope that the Day of Action will have the same effect and persuade the FCC to leave the rules in place. As with the previous protests, online users will either be reminded about the issue or learn about it for the first time. Traditional media like television and print will inevitably cover the various ways that major companies voiced their concerns.
But the powers at the FCC have already received an outpouring of comments — back in 2014 and also recently, thanks in part to John Oliver — so why would they care about public opinion? The FCC has to at least consider the official comments posted to its online message board. It doesn't necessarily have to make its decision based on those comments. But if the comments are overwhelmingly in favour of net neutrality, that could be part of a legal challenge in the future if the rules are repealed. The system is only open for new comments until July 17th, so there's little time.
More importantly, public pressure on elected officials will be the most effective part of the protest. Members of Congress and even local government could have an impact on the FCC's confidence that they could get away with this. After all, if the political will is there, legislators could potentially step in and subvert the FCC by creating new laws.
Who is participating?
Some of the biggest companies doing business on the web. Of course, porn companies were some of the earliest to sign up. Pornhub, Redtube, PornMD, Kink.com, and YouPorn will all do something to mark the day. As for the "mainstream" companies, Reddit, Apple, Amazon, Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook, and many others have pledged to do something in support of net neutrality. Even Palantir has signed on.
One of the more notable companies to join the protest is Netflix. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings caused a stir back in May when he publicly said that his company wasn't as concerned about net neutrality as it used to be. In his assessment, Netflix had outgrown that battle. At a recent Code Conference, he said that net neutrality was still important to Netflix as a principle, but it's "not narrowly important to us because we're big enough to get the deals we want." He added that "now other companies need to be on that leading edge." After Netflix faced some criticism, it joined the Battle for the Net and tweeted, "Netflix will never outgrow the fight for
#NetNeutrality. Everyone deserves an open Internet."
The most notable companies that have been silent about participating, so far, are Yahoo, AOL, and Tumblr. All three companies are owned by Verizon, which has been critical of the Title II classification but claims to broadly support the concept of net neutrality.
How will the participants voice their opposition to net neutrality?
We'll have to wait and see. Previous protests have seen sites use informative pop-ups to spread the word and artificially slow down traffic on the site before informing users that this is what life would be like without net neutrality. During the SOPA/PIPA protest, Wikipedia went dark and Google blacked out its famous logo. During Internet Slowdown Day, a GIF of the spinning wheel of death was commonly used when visitors first logged onto a website. Expect the most dedicated sites to employ new tactics on Wednesday.
How can you participate?
Any way you want. You could sponsor a billboard, share an explainer on social media, call your congressman, encourage other companies to back net neutrality, project a message on Trump Tower, or do something that no one else has done before. The FCC has a complicated message board that allows you to leave comments for review by the agency. Unfortunately, the commenting system appears to have been flooded by robo-comments supporting the death of the open internet. That's all the more reason to leave a comment yourself. And if you're not sure what to post on Facebook, the Internet Association has put together some GIF-heavy prefabricated statements for anyone to use.