By HOPE RACINE
The Internet came to a symbolic crawl on Wednesday, Sept. 10 as part of a global protest to defend net neutrality.
Net neutrality, often referred to as the golden rule of the Internet, assures that cable and telecom companies that provide internet service cannot block or discriminate against any company, application or content hosted on said internet.
However, a recent plan by the Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler may potentially threaten the online super highway. Wheeler’s plan will allow broadband providers such as Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and AT&T the ability to charge companies such as Netflix, Google, Facebook and more for preferential treatment.
In effect, companies whose sole business and revenue depend on internet access will have to pay more in order to provide reliably fast service to customers. It will be the equivalent of buying an EasyPass to gain access to the highway fast lane – not required, but highly encouraged if you want to get to work on time.
Many sites protesting these proposed changes joined together in an “Internet Slowdown” to raise awareness for net neutrality. While these sites did not actually slow their services, each featured the much dreaded “spinning wheel” symbol.
“If there were Internet slow lanes, you’d still be waiting,” said a message that appeared on the Netflix homepage. “Protect internet freedom. Defend net neutrality.”
These sites then prompted users to “take action” and navigated them to BattleFortheNet.com, a site that offers information on net neutrality and provides a venue for individuals to send comments to the FCC.
In response to public opposition, the FCC has proposed a compromise: categorizing internet access as a “common carrier” under Title II of the Communications Act.
Title II is the means with which the FCC currently regulates phone companies, and subsection two of the act states that carriers cannot “make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities or services.”
However, some who are in favor of net neutrality do not view Title II as the appropriate venue.
“Title II includes a host of arcane provisions,” FCC commissioner Michael O’Reilly said during a recent meeting. “The idea that the commission can magically impose or sprinkle just the right amount of Title II on broadband providers is giving the commission more credit than it ever deserves.”
O’Reilly went on to call Title II “an inappropriate framework for today’s dynamic technologies.”
For those companies facing the majority of the backlash, Title II does not appear to be a decent compromise either. Those who are proponents of the FCC’s changes claim that classifying the internet as a common carrier under Title II will reduce future investment in the online infrastructure, and that the FCC can ensure net neutrality without the Title II classification.
Defenders of net neutrality contest that these allegations are false, and have accused them of employing lobbyists for their cause and providing millions of dollars to political campaigns, according to Battle For The Net.
“The guy who used to run the cable industry’s lobbying arm is now running the agency tasked with regulating it. That is the equivalent of needing a babysitter and hiring a dingo,” comedian John Oliver said on his television show “Last Week Tonight.”
“With the fact that they are practically overseeing their own oversight, it is hardly surprising that cable companies are basically monopolies now,” Oliver continued. “A federal study found that 96 percent of the population had access to two or fewer cable broadband providers. It’s almost as if they’ve agreed to stay out of each other’s way, like drug cartels.”
Many politicians, such as House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, have shown support for net neutrality.
“I oppose special Internet fast lanes,” Pelosi wrote in an open letter to the FCC. “I believe the FCC should follow the court’s guidance and reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II.”
Politicians, activists, companies and individuals are able to file formal comments and suggestions through the FCC website until Sept. 15.
“What’s being proposed is so egregious that activists and corporations have been forced onto the same side,” Oliver said. “And you might wonder, if everyone is against this, how is it even possibly happening?”