Some of the world’s largest internet companies are preparing to throttle their own websites in a day of protest against the United States’ Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The 170 organisations involved – including Amazon, Reddit and Netflix – are preparing to choke their own services on Wednesday 12 July as a warning against FCC proposals for deregulating how internet service providers (ISPs) treat customers.
They allege the proposed deregulation would “destroy net neutrality and give big cable companies control over what we see and do online” – but what exactly is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is a term coined in 2003 to describe the principle that ISPs should treat all of the data they’re providing to customers equally, and not to use their own infrastructure to block out competitors.
In a fairly classical regulatory brouhaha, most of the big cable companies which the protest movement think would be at liberty to act maliciously have come forward in support of the FCC’s proposals.
However, all of those companies state that they are supporters of net neutrality and that the protest movement is mistaken in its opposition to the FCC’s plans.
:: What are the FCC’s plans?
Image: Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
The FCC’s chairman, Ajit Pai, expressed his desire to remove a rule called the Open Internet Order, which had been put in place under the Obama administration.
One specific part of the Open Internet Order called Title II established that broadband should be a particularly regulated service – and that ISPs were required to maintain internet connections of a certain speed to everything that their customers wished to access.
Announcing the proposal to deregulate, Mr Pai described the internet as “the greatest free-market success story in history.
“But two years ago, the federal government’s approach suddenly changed. The FCC, on a party-line vote, decided to impose a set of heavy-handed regulations upon the internet.
“It decided to slap an old regulatory framework called ‘Title II’ – originally designed in the 1930s for the Ma Bell telephone monopoly – upon thousands of internet service providers, big and small.”
This was “all about politics” said Mr Pai before arguing that the increased regulatory burden was reducing investment in broadband infrastructure.
This notion has received considerable support from cable companies such as Comcast, whose senior executive vice president, David Cohen, wrote: “While some try to conflate the two issues, Title II and net neutrality are not the same.
“Title II is a source of authority to impose enforceable net neutrality rules. Title II is not net neutrality. Getting rid of Title II does not mean that we are repealing net neutrality protections for American consumers.”
Not everybody agrees, however.
:: What’s going to happen?
Image: A protester campaigning against SOPA in 2012
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a leading digital civil liberties organisation, claims that more than 40 ISPs across the US have written to the FCC to explain that Title II has not hurt their ability to develop and expand their networks.
The EFF has been an active participant in these protests whenever they have occurred before.
In 2012, an online protest included Google and Wikipedia replacing their websites with pages protesting the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA).
The result of this protest was considerable, with lobbying leading to two of PIPA’s sponsors withdrawing their support for the bill, including a man who would later seek Presidential nomination from the Republican Party, Marco Rubio.
Another slowdown in 2014 took place to highlight net neutrality issues. The organisation behind that protest claimed that more than 2,030,000 individuals took part in it, sending over 2,300,000 emails to members of Congress to convince their legislators to protect net neutrality.
The ultimate result of that protest? It was the FCC adopting the very same Open Internet Order which Mr Pai is now proposing to replace.