So, 10th September is the day that an army of content-creators launch their fight against the prospect of ISP Goliaths charging stinging fees for optimal traffic management.
The “internet slowdown” protest aims to raise awareness of the threat to the neutral management by ISPs of digital content speeds. And some prominent names are taking part in the protest: Netflix, Reddit and Twitter amongst them. To mark the protest, dozens of firms will display “the spinning wheel of death” on their websites (an icon for slow loading speed), although their sites will run normally.
On Monday, Netflix posted an animated version of the wheel on its Twitter account, with an embedded link taking visitors to a page showing how they can act to defend “net neutrality.” It also urged others to take part in the campaign. The American Civil Liberties Union, Digg, Free Press, Mozilla, Kickstarter, Upworthy, Vimeo and Automattic (WordPress) have already declared that they are supporting it, and Foursquare, Digg, Boing Boing, Cheezburger and Thunderclap are also said to be aboard.
What’s caused this outbreak of libertarian militancy? In January, the US Court of Appeals ruled that ISPs were under no obligation to ensure all traffic was treated equally. In response, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed a new rule obliging broadband providers to ensure that “all users have access to an internet experience that is sufficiently robust, fast and effectively usable.” “Users” are defined by the FCC as both consumers and “content providers who do not enter into specific arrangements with broadband providers.”
Although paved with good intentions (it bans telecom providers from blocking downloads of legal content, for example) it also contains a loophole that could lead to a sulphurous destination for many content creators: in leaving the door open for ISPs to charge for “prioritised” data delivery, the prospect of expensive (and, for many, unaffordable) “Internet fast lanes” opened up.
The FCC has received a letter signed by over 100 tech firms (amongst them Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter) arguing that the rule “would enable phone and cable Internet service providers to discriminate both technically and financially against Internet companies and to impose new tolls on them”
Just in case the FCC missed the point, they added, “This represents a grave threat to the internet.”