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‘Break The Internet’ In Protest Of Net Neutrality Repeal

The digital rights groups behind the “Battle For The Net” alliance issued a call to both internet users and website operators to start protesting the FCC’s repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules. The repeal is scheduled to happen only two days from now, on December 14.

Repeal Of Net Neutrality

The idea behind net neutrality is that internet users pay for internet packages from ISPs in order to get equal access to all websites. Every bit on the internet is treated as equal and neutral.

Another way to see it is that under proper net neutrality rules there wouldn’t be discrimination from ISPs against certain types of content. For instance, the ISPs wouldn’t be able to say that certain news sites should get priority access on their networks, while other news sites wouldn’t. CNN wouldn't arrive faster to a user's device than The New York Times or the ISPs wouldn't deliver CNN data for free to the user, for example, while asking the user to pay for data when visiting the NYT.

Other examples could include ISPs charging financial services websites more money because those types of business are more profitable and "they can afford it," and because it’s more “valuable” for those websites to reach their customers, than it is for other websites. In a market where there is little to no competition, and no net neutrality rules, this could be a possibility.

Even before the current net neutrality rules passed in 2015, the ISPs were starting to ask video content companies for money in order to serve their content even at normal internet speeds. Services such as Netflix initially opposed that, and we started seeing Netflix video being throttled on some ISP networks.

In other words, it didn't matter if the ISP customers paid for 20Mbps, 50Mbps, or 100Mbps connections. Netflix would still play poorly, even if it only needed 3Mbps to play the video at SD quality. This is what it means to allow the ISPs to discriminate against web services, become gatekeepers, and charge both customers and website services. This is what prompted Netflix to create its own internet speed test to show people that some ISPs aren’t giving them the speeds they are promising in their contracts. Verizon was caught capping Netflix speeds even recently, which is likely due to knowing that even if the rules are in place, the current FCC wouldn't enforce them.

If ISPs start charging for access to their networks as well as to specific sites, then peer-to-peer connections may be seen as a pure money-losing operation to them. The ISPs may then start throttling P2P content such as torrents, cryptocurrencies, or even person-to-person file-sharing.

SOPA-Style Protest

Perhaps the most successful protest in the history of the internet against a law was the 2012 protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which promised to allow content makers to censor websites at will with a simple accusation of copyright infringement.

The internet community—including individuals as well as large organizations such as Google and Wikipedia—joined in protest of the bill. Eventually most of SOPA's supporters (and its Senate equivalent, PIPA) in Congress changed sides and voted against the bill, signifying a win for the internet community.

How To Join The Protest

The “Battle For The Net” alliance, which was started by organizations such as Fight For The Future, Demand Progress, and Free Press, played a major role in getting the former FCC leadership to pass the net neutrality rules in the first place.

The alliance, which has already been joined by dozens of websites, is now asking website owners and operators to join the new protest against the repeal of those net neutrality rules. It has also made it easy for websites to join the protest by developing ready-to-use alert prompts for their visitors. The code can be found on Battle For The Net’s website.

Regular internet users can also participate in the protest by changing their profile pics to images recommended by the alliance on social media websites, by spreading the word about the repeal, as well via the many other creative ways to draw attention to the issue, all of which can be found on the alliance’s website.

Some internet users may feel slightly inconvenienced by the protest, but that's the point—to show internet users that this is how their internet could become on a daily basis if the FCC is successful in repealing the net neutrality rules.

If the protest does fail, and the FCC repeals the rules on December 14, then it will be up to Congress to restore them through law. Arguably, net neutrality laws should have been a law in the first place, rather than some executive-level rules that could be changed at will from one administration to another.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.