As the FCC prepares to close public comments on its net neutrality proposal, major internet companies are organizing a protest to raise awareness. Reddit, Etsy, Foursquare, Kickstarter, Mozilla, Namecheap, Vimeo, and others will observe next Wednesday — September 10th — as a day of action, during which they'll showcase net neutrality issues on their sites and drive visitors to contact the FCC, Congress, and the White House. The protest, like many previous, smaller ones, warns of a potential "internet fast lane," in which ISPs and online services could reach deals for better service and leave the rest of the web behind. Among other things, sites will post banners that mimic a loading wheel to dramatize what a slowed-down internet could look like.
Several banners and widgets have been posted ahead of time by Battle for the Net, a project backed by Fight for the Future, Demand Progress (founded by the late internet activist Aaron Swartz), and other nonprofit organizations. While there's not much information on the banners themselves, Battle for the Net backs one of the most popular options for preserving net neutrality: reclassifying broadband under the Title II common carrier laws that regulate phone service. The original Open Internet rules, set in place under the watch of former FCC chair Julius Genachowski, were struck down earlier this year after a judge ruled that the core principles, like stopping ISPs from blocking or degrading the quality of services, treated companies like Verizon too much like common carriers.
'Battle for the Net' wants broadband reclassified as a common carrier
Current chair Tom Wheeler has promised to keep net neutrality alive, but his proposal was received relatively poorly when he unveiled it this spring, particularly because it leaves open the possibility of speeding up specific services within "commercially reasonable" bounds. This has prompted a major backlash and a number of angry public comments, but if you support the idea of net neutrality, it's less clear how it will be fixed. Wheeler has largely steered clear of Title II reclassification, suggesting that he can use language from this year's court decision to justify it under rules on promoting broadband competition. And critics of Title II argue that it's an overly restrictive solution that gives the FCC too much power over the internet and might still not support net neutrality rules. A "forked" version of Battle for the Net, backed by libertarian-leaning group TechFreedom, has dubbed itself "Don't Break the Internet" and come out in favor of "vigilant restraint" and against Title II.
But among net neutrality advocates, Title II is often considered the best way to create Open Internet rules that will stand up in court. No matter what rules Wheeler puts forward, there's a good chance he'll face more lawsuits from ISPs, like the one that killed the last framework. Section 706, the option Wheeler has pursued most strongly, offers a shaky foundation for lasting policy. A third option is to ask Congress to pass a law codifying standard Open Internet rules; although the idea has been floated by lawmakers, some members of Congress have also pushed for a bill explicitly banning net neutrality. The EFF, Public Knowledge, and other groups that are prominent in the net neutrality fight have signed onto the mission of Battle for the Net.
The day of action will run through midnight of September 11th, a few days ahead of the FCC comment deadline of September 15th. While it's modeled somewhat on the strategy of the 2012 SOPA blackout, the loading wheel widgets won't actually slow down sites, making it less extreme than that protest — though one company has actually slowed down its site for visitors using FCC IP addresses as part of an earlier protest. Individual companies may do more than the banners; Reddit manager Erik Martin says the site will be gathering comments from members, among other things. The FCC will be using comments to formulate a final proposal for net neutrality, which it previously said it hoped to have in place by the end of 2014.