Top Websites Will Participate in Internet Slowdown Day Protest Today
Internet Slowdown Day will be headlined by several major companies when Web users and so-called Net activists come together on Sept. 10 to demonstrate what the Internet might look like if so-called fast lanes are allowed as part of the new net neutrality rules that the Federal Communications Commission is currently considering.
Fight for the Future, the group behind the advocacy event, announced Thursday that several top websites including Reddit, Foursquare, Vimeo, WordPress, and Boing Boing will take part in the online event. Although I-Am_Bored is not a “top site” by any means, we will be participating in this event to show our support for allowing the internet to remain free and unregulated. Through out the day today, you will find this article reposted under various “catch” post titles and subtitles. Don’t be mad, it is our way of hoping to show you what it could be like if these new purposed laws are put into effect.
Cable companies want to slow down (and break!) your favorite sites, for profit. You can help to fight back aw well.By covering the web with symbolic “loading” icons, to remind everyone what an Internet without net neutrality would look like, and drive record numbers of emails and calls to lawmakers. Write directly to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Lest you be worried that your Internet service will get bogged down today, fear not. Internet Slowdown Day is meant to be a symbolic protest.
Participating sites will display an infinitely-loading site loading icon to illustrate to visitors what the Web could be like if broadband providers are allowed to offer priority service as part of the upcoming net neutrality rules. The companies and activist organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Greenpeace will also call on visitors to contact their U.S. representatives and officially protest the fast lane aspect of the potential new regulation that had originally been proposed by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler as part of the new net neutrality rules.
What It Means
Net neutrality has long been a subject of debate on the Internet. The principle is simple: Internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon and governments around the world should treat all Internet traffic the same. This means ISPs shouldnt block or slow down traffic on their local broadband networks based on individual users. And they shouldnt modify their services based on the type of traffic those users are accessing or by the type of service thats sending the content.
The FCC has been redrafting rules to protect this principle, since earlier rules adopted in 2010 were thrown out by a federal court in January. While Net activists all agree that new rules are necessary, they were unhappy with one aspect of the FCC chairmans original proposal. In that proposal leaked in April, the new rules would explicitly allow broadband providers to offer paid prioritization services to companies willing to pay for faster access to end users. These so-called fast lanes would act much like HOV lanes on a highway, allowing certain packets that are marked priority to travel in a less congested lane to their destination. This would allow some companies, such as the video service Netflix, to get its packets of streaming video through congested networks faster than other services, which havent paid for access to the fast lane.
Fight for the Future argues that the proposed rules would allow major broadband providers to create a two-tiered Internet, with slow lanes (for most of us) and fast lanes (for wealthy corporations that are willing to pay fees in exchange for fast service). The organization also argues that the rules would hand power to Internet service providers and allow them to discriminate against online content and applications.
Wheeler has backtracked with regard to his original proposal thanks in large part to strong public backlash. He says the FCC will not allow an Internet of haves and have-nots to be created. But the current proposal that is still open for public comment does ask if there are any acceptable instances where paid priority should be allowed.
So far, the matter hasnt been decided. However, some of the most prominent online companies in the world, including Google and Facebook, have railed against this aspect of the proposed rules, and some industry pundits say that they would negatively affect competition on the Web.
Net neutrality Part I: Let’s start with the basics
What is Net neutrality?
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers, such as AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon, and governments around the world should treat all Internet traffic the same. This means Internet service providers (ISPs) shouldn’t block or slow down traffic on their local broadband networks based on individual users. And they shouldn’t modify their services based on the type of traffic those users are accessing or by the type of service that’s sending the content. I’ve been hearing so much about Net neutrality lately.
But hasn’t this issue come up in the past? How did we get to where we are now with this debate?
For more than a decade, supporters of Net neutrality have argued that the FCC needs a set of rules to ensure that broadband providers, which not only control consumers’ access to the Internet but also sell Internet-based services, don’t abuse their power. In 2004, then FCC Chairman Michael Powell was the first FCC official to propose guidelines for keeping the Internet open.In 2005, the Republican-controlled agency adopted a set of principles to preserve a free and open Internet. These weren’t rules or regulations, but rather guiding principles for ISPs to abide by. The FCC attempted to enforce these principles in 2008,when Comcast was accused of slowing down traffic from BitTorrent, a file transfer protocol that allows people to share massive files on the Internet. The FCC, led at the time by Republican Kevin Martin, censured Comcast. Comcast then sued the FCC. In 2010, a federal appeals court ruled that the FCC didn’t have authority to reprimand Comcast. By that point, Democrats had taken over the White House — and subsequently the FCC (by naming a new chairman to the commission). During the 2008 campaign, President Obama said preserving Net neutrality was a key part of his technology platform. So in 2010, the Democratic FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, worked to turn the FCC’s Net neutrality principles into real regulation. By the end of 2010, the FCC, which had consulted with big phone companies like Verizon as well as Internet companies such as Google when drafting the rules, passed the first official Open Internet regulation. The new rules treated wireless networks differently from older wireline networks and left open the possibility that broadband providers could sell a “fast lane” Internet service. The Open Internet rules were criticized by consumer advocacy groups for being too weak. The ink on the new regulations was barely dry when Verizon sued the FCC, arguing the agency didn’t have the authority to implement the regulation.
In January 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the DC circuit sided with Verizon and overturned the FCC’s Open Internet rules. But it wasn’t a total loss for the FCC. The court upheld that the FCC has authority to regulate Internet openness. The court just didn’t like the legal grounds the agency based its rules on. This brings us to the current debate. In late April, the new Democratic FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, drafted proposed rules to replace the ones struck down in court. Wheeler claimed this would offer the quickest way to reinstate the rules that had been passed in 2010. But Net neutrality advocates, such as consumer groups Free Press and Public Knowledge, as well as Congressional leaders, like Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), have complained the proposal is still too weak to protect the Internet from ISPs and wireless operators who want to make content providers and consumers ultimately pay for different levels of access. They are particularly wary of the suggestion that broadband providers might offer paid priority services on their networks to companies, such as Netflix or Amazon. They say this would create a two-tiered Internet, in which services from companies who pay for priority flow freely through the Internet and services from companies that don’t want to pay for, or can’t afford, premium access get stuck in a slow lane. These advocates also believe the FCC needs a better legal basis for whatever regulation it passes, and they’ve made quite a ruckus. That has gotten the attention of FCC Chairman Wheeler and Congress. Wheeler has since revised his original proposal. On May 15, the FCC voted to open the revised proposal for debate.
What will happen next?
At this point, the new rules are simply a proposal. The FCC has published the document in the Federal Registry and is now accepting public comment. The comment period will end July 15. The FCC will then accept reply comments until September 10. To handle the expected flood of responses, the FCC has set up a new online “inbox”to take comments. After the comment period ends in September, the FCC will review the comments and then draft official rules. This process is likely to take at least a few months. The FCC says it hopes to vote on official rules by the end of the year.
What is in the proposal that the FCC is now considering?
The proposalessentially lays out a framework for what the FCC chairman believes is the best way to reinstate the Open Internet rules. But it also asks a bunch of questions about whether this approach is best or whether other approaches suggested by Net neutrality advocates might be better. The document itself is expected to elicit feedback and comment. Here’s a summary of what’s included: The transparency rule:This requires that broadband providers share performance reports, with information about the speed of their services and what they’re doing to manage traffic during times of congestion. This includes reporting any instances of blocking traffic. If they offer a paid priority service, they’ll have to disclose those agreements. The no blocking rule:This rule prohibits broadband providers from blocking lawful content on the Internet for any reason. This means network operators can’t block access to a site or service that competes with their own services. The no “unreasonable practices” rule:This is the vaguest rule — and the most controversial. While the no-blocking rule prohibits broadband providers from blocking or intentionally slowing down Internet traffic, it leaves open the possibility for broadband providers to offer paid priority services. The FCC has said it might consider allowing broadband operators to create premium services that would ask companies, such as Netflix, to pay to deliver for faster access to consumers. This is the part of the proposal that’s earned the most criticism. I will explain it in more detail in the next FAQ in this series. Chairman Wheeler has said several times the rules won’t allow any such services to be offered that are not “commercially reasonable.” In other words, the services can’t be anticompetitive. And broadband providers must provide the level of service they’ve promised consumers. The proposal specifically asks the public to comment on what practices should be considered commercially reasonable and which ones should be considered unreasonable. It also asks whether paid priority services should be banned outright. Another issue raised as part of the debate is that some advocates want the FCC to reclassify broadband, so that it’s regulated like a utility. This would subject the Internet to some of the same rules used to regulate the telephone industry. Most importantly, it would treat broadband like a common carrier, which means network operators would have to make their infrastructure available to everyone. Wheeler doesn’t think this is the best approach, and his proposed rules use broadband’s current classification as the legal basis for implementing the new rules. But in the current proposal, he asks the public to comment on whether reclassification or another legal path would be more appropriate for implementing strong Net neutrality regulation.
Net neutrality Part II: Let’s dive a little deeper
Can you explain what the “paid priority” or Internet “fast lane” is really about?
The idea of a fast lane, or “paid prioritization,” means that traffic on your broadband connection will get preferential treatment during times of congestion.
If you think of the Internet like a highway and the packets of data are like cars, a priority service or “fast lane” would create an HOV lane for certain kinds of content during rush hour. This would allow the high priority traffic to get through the network first.
This is most important for certain delay-sensitive traffic like video or audio. When packets don’t arrive on time and in the right order for video, the stream freezes, or buffers, while it waits for the packets to arrive. Sometimes packets are dropped, which causes pixelation — where parts of the image are a jumble of squares or missing squares. Overall, it’s an unpleasant experience for the viewer.
For other types of traffic, congestion isn’t as much of an issue. For example, for text-based services like email or web browsing. It might mean that it takes a little longer for an email to popup in your inbox or for your Facebook page to load.
Creating a so-called “fast lane” allows broadband providers to charge companies more money to send their delay-sensitive traffic first. In other words, if Netflix paid Verizon for a priority service, the Netflix traffic would get to ride in the HOV fast lane. Other web traffic that doesn’t pay a priority won’t get access to this fast lane.
The rules the FCC is now considering leave the door open for broadband providers to offer this type of service. But the proposal also asks whether this type of service should even be allowed.
Is paid priority a bad thing for consumers?
Not necessarily. There are some potential benefits. Let’s say Netflix paid for priority on the Verizon broadband network. This means that when the network is congested, Netflix video traffic will get priority. It will move more quickly through the network than other services that have not paid for priority.
If you are a Netflix subscriber, this means the quality of the video stream you get will likely be better during these peak periods. So instead of suffering through a lot of buffering, the video stream will come through in a timely fashion. In other words, if you’re streaming Netflix’s House of Cards, your video suddenly won’t freeze just as Vice President Underwood (Kevin Spacey) or his wife Claire (Robin Wright) are about to make their next shady move.
If you’re streaming in high-definition or eventually in ultra-high quality 4K, the quality of the video will come through at the selected quality.
What’s the downside to paid priority?
Depending on how congested the connection is, it could mean other packets get stuck in traffic a bit longer. If these other packets are for text-based services like email or for web surfing, it might mean it takes longer for an email message to appear in your inbox or for a web page to fully download.
But it could also mean that other video services that haven’t paid for priority may experience even more delay than if they had been given access to the “fast lane” too. So this might mean services delivering video that don’t pay to have access to the priority lane may have even more buffering and more pixelation.
Let’s say you’re taking an online class and trying to have a video conference with your professor during class time. If the university isn’t paying for priority or if you’re using some peer-to-peer video transfer service that doesn’t have access to the priority service, the quality of this video may be poor.
In other words, there are fewer lanes available on your network connection than there were before, which might exacerbate congestion.
So if there is a fast lane, does this mean that any other traffic on the Internet will be put in a slow lane?
Yes and no. Let me explain. The “fast lane” is really only necessary when the network is congested. So if the highway or network is wide enough and has plenty of capacity, it doesn’t matter which lane it travels in or whether it has priority. All the traffic will likely move through the network as quickly as it can without hitting any bottlenecks.
But when there is congestion, the priority lane will let providers with priority access get through more quickly. They’ve paid to ensure their service is delivered at a high quality. Giving priority to some over others during heavy times of congestion could slow down packets on the rest of the network.
One thing to keep in mind though is that when a network is congested even without priority lanes, all traffic suffers. So whether or not there are fast lanes, your Internet experience will likely be degraded.
This is why many people today complain about poor video streaming quality at peak times.
If you’ve ever tried to watch a movie or TV show from Netflix or some other video provider in the evening, you know what I’m talking about. This is also true of other services like Skype. At peak times, call quality often drops off. Sometimes downloading a web page can take significantly longer if the network is overloaded.
But just like the real life highway system for cars and trucks, traffic congestion is cyclical — eventually traffic moves along once usage subsides.
Is there an alternative to providing better quality video streaming other than creating priority lanes?
Yes, broadband operators are always working to stay ahead of network congestion. They’ve been investing billions of dollars over the years to upgrade their networks. This is one reason why Google and others are deploying fiber networks. With the right kind of hardware on a fiber network, they can offer near limitless capacity.
But upgrading networks or widening the highway so-to-speak, can be expensive. And broadband providers often balance the cost of upgrades with the sales they can bring in to support those services.
Another option is that instead of creating a fast lane within the open Internet, broadband providers could offer companies like Netflix a “managed service.” This would essentially shunt the traffic off the public Internet onto a private link. The cable and phone companies already use these managed private links to distribute their own video services. But these dedicated lanes of traffic come at a pretty hefty price tag for the companies that subscribe to them. And these costs would likely be passed on to consumers.
Many smaller companies wouldn’t likely be interested in such a high-end service. They’d rather take their chances with the best effort public Internet. But some larger companies might be interested in paying for such a service, because they could sell new services to consumers to recoup the cost.
There are rumors that Apple has discussed with Comcast the possibility of delivering a streaming video service using a managed link. This type of access would give Apple a high-quality, video streaming service without the hiccups associated with streaming video over the public Internet. At the same time, since the traffic would be shunted to a private link, it wouldn’t impede or slow traffic on the public Internet.
What does it mean to turn broadband into a utility?
The discussion of how broadband should be classified really has to do with figuring out the best legal strategy for crafting rules that will stand up in court. As I mentioned in the Part I of the FAQ, the FCC’s authority in implementing Net neutrality protections has been questioned twice before in court. Both times, the rules were thrown out.
Net neutrality advocates say the main reason the FCC keeps failing to defend Net neutrality in court is because broadband is not classified appropriately, which inherently restricts the FCC’s authority to enforce regulation.
More than a decade ago, the FCC had a decision to make in how it regulated the infrastructure of the Internet. The choices were to either regulate the service like the traditional phone network or regulate it as an “information service,” which adhered to less regulation.
After a legal battle that ended at the US Supreme Court, the FCC decided to regulate broadband as an “information service.” That means broadband infrastructure isn’t subject to the stringent regulation of a “telecommunications service.” And it can’t be treated like a common carrier or utility.
Common carriage is a centuries old legal concept that ensures members of the public retain access to fundamental services that use public rights of way. In the case of the Internet, it means the infrastructure used to deliver Web pages, video, and audio-streaming services, and all kinds of other Internet content, should be open to anyone accessing or delivering that content.
Net neutrality supporters argue the only way to enact strong Net neutrality rules that prevent things like paid priority access is to reclassify broadband traffic as a common carrier. The FCC could do this by changing the classification from a Title I “information service” to a Title II “telecommunications service.”
But Chairman Wheeler doesn’t believe that’s necessary. He says the court has given the FCC a blueprint, which indicates the FCC can use authority under Title I, Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act to justify its regulation for Net neutrality. This wouldn’t require reclassifying broadband services, he claims.
Under this section, the FCC, Wheeler believes, has the authority to enact policies that protect and encourage the deployment of broadband services as outlined by the federal appeals court. Using this framework, Wheeler believes the proposal will stand up to another legal challenge.
If reclassifying broadband as “Title II” will really settle the legal question, why doesn’t the FCC just do it?
If only it were that simple. There are a couple of reasons why Wheeler is hesitant to take this path.
For one, it wouldn’t be an easy or clean fight. Congressional Republicans and big broadband providers, which spend millions to lobby Congress and the FCC, are already preparing for battle.
The second reason is that reclassification is likely not a slam dunk either from a legal perspective. While Net Neutrality supporters believe that reclassifying broadband would finally put an end to the legal questions surrounding the FCC’s Open Internet rules, broadband providers question whether the FCC really has the authority to reclassify broadband. And they have already indicated they will take the FCC back to court of it takes this route.
What’s more, it’s still unclear whether reclassifying will really give the FCC the authority it needs to do things like ban paid fast lanes. Chairman Wheeler argues there’s nothing specifically in Title II that prohibits broadband providers from being allowed to offer such services.
The third reason is that it’s unclear what effect reclassification would truly have on Internet investment and innovation. Broadband providers argue that applying telecommunications-style regulation would harm innovation and investment.
They may have a point. For instance, Google entered the broadband market in 2012 with its 1 Gbps service all-fiber service. It offers broadband and a paid TV service. But the company has consciously avoided including telephony as part of its service bundle, because it doesn’t want to deal with regulations associated with offering telephone service.
If Title II utility-style regulation is applied to broadband infrastructure, it could make building such high speed networks, which are already expensive to build, extremely unattractive. And given that more investment in such networks is what is really needed to ensure an open Internet, making such a move might defeat its purpose.
These are the questions the FCC has asked in its proposal. Now it’s up to the public to have their say.