Here we go again—the open internet, ever the bastion of free expression, useful information, and excellent cat videos, is under threat by the FCC. The agency plans to roll back Obama-era net neutrality protections that prevented Internet Service Providers like Comcast and Viacom from blocking web content or charging more for faster internet speeds.
But the net neutrality activists and tech companies who helped champion those protections in the first place are not going down without a fight—and are planning a “Battle for the Internet” online day of action this Wednesday, July 12.
The 2015 net neutrality law was a victory for open internet advocates, tech companies, and John Oliver. But the new FCC chairman, Ajit Pai (a Republican selected by Trump), says the law is too “heavy-handed”—and, like most other government agencies right now, wants to do away with all those pesky regulations that exist to protect consumers and the general public from getting royally screwed over by big corporations.
There’s lots of metaphors out there that try to explain what net neutrality is—and why it's important. There’s the internet-is-a-garden-where-you-should-be-allowed-to-pick-your-own-vegetables metaphor. And then there’s the pizza delivery metaphor put forth by late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (of all people):
"Imagine you are in a town with two pizza places—Domino’s and Papa John’s—and one phone company, AT&T. In a normally functioning free market, if you want to order pizza you are likely to call whichever pizza place that tastes best to you or has the best bang for your buck. But let’s say AT&T and Domino’s cut a special deal where any calls to Domino’s are favored over the calls going to other pizza places. So anyone calling Papa John’s has to wait behind everyone else calling Domino’s. For most people even if you might think Papa John’s tastes better, you know you will get your pizza faster if you choose Domino’s."
Ok, Papa John’s and Domino’s pizza both suck, but you get the idea. (Also, this is getting really difficult to write about before lunch.)
But the simplest way to understand the heart of net neutrality is by imagining broadband service as a highway. Right now, the reason why the open internet is so open is because all traffic flows across the network at roughly equal speeds. But if the net neutrality policy shifts, there will be a fast lane, for those who can afford it, and a slow lane for everyone else.
At a town hall on Friday, Senator Maria Cantwell said that the FCC’s potential policy rollback would affect small business owners the most:
“I believe that internet service should be like your telephone line. The notion that if you have a startup and you … all of the sudden would have a fast lane or a slow lane, you’d have to pay more to be in the fast lane. It’s going to restrict capital. It’s going to slow everything down. So we definitely don’t want to see that.”
And John Oliver, once again, has found himself taking the podium to talk about the issue and direct people to www.goFCCyourself.com, which actually directs you straight to the FCC proceeding, ironically called 'Restore Internet Freedom.'
On July 12, tech companies including Amazon, Reddit, Twitter, and Netflix (Facebook and Google jumped on board last Friday) will take part in the ‘day of action.’
What’s going to happen? Well, we’re not quite sure yet, but each company participating in this day of online activism will have their own way of getting the message out. OKCupid will send a message on their dating app to let people know to ‘swipe right’ on net neutrality. Pornhub is going to slow down the speeds of their videos to show how your valuable masturbation time could be affected, frustrating horny Americans everywhere.
And of course, there will be memes (which have already begun). Part of the goal of the day of action is to get people to submit their pro-net neutrality sentiments to the FCC during the public comment period, which lasts until August 16 (you can find out how to do that here).