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Don't Make the Internet Angry...

Gabe Rottman,
Legislative Counsel,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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September 9, 2014

…You wouldn’t like it when it’s angry. And it’s kinda angry.

On September 10, the ACLU will join an array of Internet companies and advocates in an “Internet Slowdown.” Organizers plan to pepper sites with the “spinning wheel of death” to illustrate a world without robust net neutrality protections that prevent broadband providers from slowing down or blocking sites and services that can’t afford to pay a premium for faster access to consumers.

The event comes a week before the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) deadline for final comments on its proposed net neutrality rules, which would likely permit these “fast lanes.” Allowing this kind of preferential access to consumers would raise costs for the scrappy start-ups – the next Netflix or Google – and likely lead to higher prices for Internet users.

The ACLU has long argued for the FCC to finally reclassify high-speed broadband providers like Verizon and Comcast as “common carriers,” similar to utility companies or the old phone system. Reclassification is the surest way to prevent providers from splitting the Internet into fast lanes and slow lanes. No blocking. No discrimination. No spinning wheel of death. Just the wide open Internet: a space for free speech and innovation to thrive.

The slowdown also comes on the heels of a landmark speech by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in which he detailed the severe lack of competition in the market for high-speed broadband. Truly high speeds are increasingly becoming a prerequisite for customers to take full advantage of the Internet. Unfortunately, as Wheeler noted, the vast majority of Americans have at most one option when shopping for high speed service.

That lack of competition is exactly why we need real net neutrality rules now. We enforce antitrust laws to ensure that companies who provide poor service or charge too much face competitors that can lure away customers and force them to do better. But consumers have little protection in the broadband market. We need the FCC to step in and protect users who simply can’t vote with their feet and move to another provider.

Wondering how best to celebrate Internet slowdown day? There’s still time to file comments with the FCC urging it to reclassify broadband service as common carriage under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Those are due September 15. Want to do more? Call your member of Congress and your senators, and ask them what they are doing to protect the open Internet.

It should be an exciting day of action, not unlike the protest shutdown by Wikipedia a few years ago against the proposed Stop Internet Piracy Act, or SOPA. That was the last time the government really faced the ire of the Internet community – and it killed the bill.

As we saw with SOPA, the Internet may be slow to anger, but you really wouldn’t like it when it’s angry. We’ll get a taste of that on September 10.

For more on what’s at stake, look no further than John Oliver:


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