Netflix to Join ‘Internet Slowdown’ Protest Over Net Neutrality

Your videos won’t load slower, but the protest could add more pressure on the FCC to enact tough rules.

A sample loading icon that will be displayed on websites Wednesday as part of a protest for stronger net neutrality rules. 
National Journal
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Brendan Sasso
Sept. 8, 2014, 10:24 a.m.

If you see a spin­ning load­ing icon when you try to watch Net­flix videos Wed­nes­day, there isn’t a prob­lem with your In­ter­net con­nec­tion. It’s part of a protest call­ing for stronger net-neut­ral­ity reg­u­la­tions.

Videos won’t ac­tu­ally load any slower. The sym­bol­ic icon is in­ten­ded to be a warn­ing of what the In­ter­net would look like without net neut­ral­ity.

Dozens of oth­er sites—in­clud­ing Red­dit, Digg, Moz­illa, Up­worthy, Imgur, Etsy, and Foursquare—had already an­nounced plans to dis­play the load­ing icon as part of the “In­ter­net Slow­down” protest. But the ad­di­tion of Net­flix, the 25th most pop­u­lar site in the United States ac­cord­ing to ana­lyt­ics site Al­exa, provides a ma­jor boost to the ef­fort.

Net­flix spokes­wo­man Anne Mar­ie Squeo con­firmed that the site will dis­play the spin­ning icon on its mem­ber and non­mem­ber home pages on Wed­nes­day. The icon won’t go on any spe­cif­ic videos, she said.

“Con­sumers, not broad­band gate­keep­ers, should pick the win­ners and losers on the In­ter­net,” she said in a state­ment. “Strong net neut­ral­ity rules are needed to stop In­ter­net ser­vice pro­viders from de­mand­ing ex­tra fees or slow­ing de­liv­ery of con­tent to con­sumers who already have paid for In­ter­net ac­cess.”

The Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion en­acted net-neut­ral­ity reg­u­la­tions in 2010 to pre­vent broad­band pro­viders like Com­cast from block­ing web­sites or “un­reas­on­ably” dis­crim­in­at­ing against any In­ter­net traffic. But a fed­er­al court struck down those rules earli­er this year, and the agency is now try­ing to re­write the reg­u­la­tions in a way that can sur­vive fu­ture court chal­lenges.

FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er’s pro­pos­al for new rules has sparked a ma­jor back­lash be­cause it would al­low pro­viders to charge sites for spe­cial “fast lanes” as long as the agree­ments are “com­mer­cially reas­on­able.”

Ad­vocacy groups De­mand Pro­gress, Fight for the Fu­ture, Free Press, and En­gine Ad­vocacy or­gan­ized Wed­nes­day’s protest.

Dav­id Segal, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of De­mand Pro­gress, said he ex­pects sev­er­al more web­sites will de­cide to join the protest. Segal said the protest will be “massive,” but he was re­luct­ant to com­pare it to the 2012 up­ris­ing that forced Con­gress to aban­don the con­tro­ver­sial Stop On­line Pir­acy Act, bet­ter known by its ac­ronym SOPA.

In that protest, Wiki­pe­dia and oth­er sites shut down en­tirely, and Google, the most pop­u­lar site in the world, blacked out its logo.

“These [protests] all stand on their own right,” Segal said. “It’s like com­par­ing every rally, every march to the biggest march in his­tory.”

Google and Face­book did not re­spond Monday on wheth­er they plan to join this week’s net-neut­ral­ity protest. Kath­er­ine Ma­h­er, a spokes­wo­man for the Wiki­me­dia Found­a­tion (which runs Wiki­pe­dia), said the site’s vo­lun­teer ed­it­ors make fi­nal de­cisions about In­ter­net ad­vocacy. “At this point, it doesn’t look like the com­munity will be par­ti­cip­at­ing in Wed­nes­day’s event,” she said.

Net neut­ral­ity will be a tough­er chal­lenge for the act­iv­ists than SOPA was. Two years ago, the goal was to de­rail le­gis­la­tion, but now the protest is in­ten­ded to pres­sure the FCC to en­act stronger rules.

“It’s al­ways harder to make something pro­duct­ive hap­pen than to con­vince people not to do something,” Segal ac­know­ledged.

The protest is timed to flood the FCC with com­ments be­fore the fil­ing dead­line of Sept. 15. More than 1 mil­lion people have already weighed in, with the vast ma­jor­ity call­ing for tough­er reg­u­la­tions.

The pro­test­ers want the FCC to re­clas­si­fy broad­band pro­viders as “tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions ser­vices” un­der the Com­mu­nic­a­tions Act. The leg­al tweak would give the agency au­thor­ity to en­act stronger net-neut­ral­ity rules, but would prompt a massive fight with in­dustry groups and Re­pub­lic­ans, who warn it would strangle eco­nom­ic growth.

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