OVERNIGHT TECH: Web preps for ‘Slowdown’ protest

THE LEDE: Dozens of websites and advocacy groups are gearing up for Wednesday’s “Internet Slowdown,” which promises to be the Web’s most public protest on new net neutrality rules so far.

 

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Netflix, Etsy, Foursquare and Meetup are among the websites that have announced their participation in the push by featuring a spinning “loading” icon — but not actually slowing down speeds for users. The “slowdown” will serve as a warning about “slow lanes” that could emerge on the Internet if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not write rules banning Web companies from making deals with each other to speed up users’ speed. Critics say the proposal FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released earlier this year would do just that.

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“If there were Internet slow lanes you’d still be waiting,” said one banner some of the websites will host.

If the action affects fans of “House of Cards” and homemade bracelets as much as comedian John Oliver’s memorable monologue on the issue hit home with HBO viewers earlier this year, Wednesday's event could help to raise public awareness and keep people engaged.

Wednesday’s event is being organized by activist groups including Fight for the Future and Demand Progress. The American Civil Liberties Union, Sierra Club, Mozilla and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are among the other organizations and companies taking part.

In a blog post this week, Amy Kroin from the Free Press Action Fund — another of the event’s organizers — said the protest “could become one of the biggest online protests of all time,” potentially even eclipsing the 2012 fight over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

The move comes six days before the second round of comments to the FCC closes next Monday. So far, the commission has received about 1.34 million comments on the proposal, which is closing in on the record 1.4 million comments it received following Janet Janet’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl.

Pushback already mounting: Not everyone thinks the protest is a good idea. Robert Atkinson, founder and president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank linked to an industry trade group, said in a statement ahead of Wednesday’s action that it is “yet another scare tactic” that uses “the imaginary boogie man of ‘slow lanes’” to gain support for tough utility-style rules for the Web.

“This ‘technological McCarthyism’ is a dangerous game and has no place in broadband regulation narrowly, or tech policy more broadly,” he added. “The answers to these important and complex policy questions should be firmly grounded in technical reality and reasoned argumentation, not about who can generate the most form letters filed with the FCC.”

Many of the groups participating in Wednesday’s event have called for the FCC to reclassify broadband Internet service so that it can be treated like a utility — a prospect that many Internet service providers have rejected and which would likely lead to a speedy lawsuit. The protest itself does not specifically call for that step, however. 

Groups tell FCC to get out of town: Aside from the “Slowdown,” the ACLU, MoveOn and other organizations are telling the FCC to hold public hearings outside of Washington so commissioners can get a better perspective on how net neutrality rules would affect Americans. The 27 organizations asked Tom Wheeler in a letter on Tuesday to participate in at least four public, town hall-style hearings before finalizing the rules. 

“An often invisible agency is about to decide the future of our news and information ecosystem. It must not make an invisible decision,” said Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner who now advises Common Cause — one of the groups that signed the letter — in a statement.

In an email to supporters, ACLU President Anthony Romero warned about “powerful corporations” lobbying the FCC. “The open Internet affects us all – and the FCC has the responsibility to hear from all of us,” he wrote.

Wheeler notes skepticism of Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s remarks at a wireless industry conference in Las Vegas could spell trouble for Comcast’s planned $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable. Days after criticizing the current broadband Internet marketplace for not having enough competition, Wheeler seemed to attack the central argument of the cable giants’ deal, while not mentioning the two companies directly.    

“I know that achieving scale is good economics, and that there is a natural economic incentive to accrue ever-expanding scale,” he said, according to prepared remarks. “We will continue to be skeptical of efforts to achieve scale through the consolidation of major players.”

Comcast and Time Warner Cable have repeatedly defended their planned merger by noting that the two companies do not currently compete for subscribers in any market of the country. The deal is necessary, they say, to build better networks and compete with rivals like Google and Netflix.

House panel to look at antitrust bill: The House Judiciary Committee will take a look at a new bill from Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdSenators introduce bill to overhaul sexual harassment policy Freedom Caucus bruised but unbowed in GOP primary fights Five races to watch in the Texas runoffs MORE (R-Texas) on Wednesday that would change the way regulators review antitrust cases. The Standard Merger and Acquisition Reviews Through Equal Rules (SMARTER) Act would make standards for review the same at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission. Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteTrump, GOP launch full-court press on compromise immigration measure Meadows gets heated with Ryan on House floor The Hill's 12:30 Report - Sponsored by Delta Air Lines - Trump says he will sign 'something' to end family separations MORE (R-Va.) called it a “commonsense measure” that makes the law fair for companies.

Calls mount for Web tax ban: With just a couple of weeks left until the current ban on state and local taxes on Internet access expires on Nov. 1, supporters of the ban want Congress to get moving. The Internet Tax Freedom Act Coalition — which represents major Internet companies including Comcast and AT&T — told lawmakers in the Senate to protect “students, small businesses, working families and other Internet users” from new taxes.

Former Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) and former Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.), the honorary co-chairmen of Broadband for America, made a similar plea on Tuesday, warning that letting the law expire “would endanger affordable access to the Internet for millions of Americans."

The House easily passed an extension earlier this year, but senators’ attempts to tie the issue to an online sales tax bill have dealt the effort a setback in the upper chamber. 

CTIA names board: The head of Kentucky company Bluegrass Cellular will take over as president of CTIA-The Wireless Association, the trade group announced on Tuesday. The head of mobility issues at AT&T is the group’s new vice chairman, and other executives from Verizon, Qualcomm and other firms will also take new seats on the board.

 

ON TAP:

At 9:30, the Senate Homeland Security Committee is holding a hearing on cyber threats, featuring a slew of officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center and the FBI. 

The retail and financial industries are hosting an event on cybersecurity starting at 9:30. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) is expected to give remarks. 

The House Science Committee has a hearing on exploring the solar system pegged for 10:30.

The American Enterprise Institute is holding an event on regulating broadband starting at 12:30.

At 2 p.m., the House Armed Services Committee takes a look at cyber uses for the military.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

The Federal Communications Commission will likely vote this month to kill off its decades-old sports blackout rule.

Apple’s new watch device may have fans of the tech icon giddy, but don’t count Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) among them. 

Two Senate Democrats have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Home Depot’s massive data breach, which may have exposed details about millions of shoppers’ credit and debit cards.

Nearly three dozen major technology manufacturers and suppliers are warning the Obama administration against tough new regulations on broadband Internet companies. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing later this month on potential regulations on Internet service providers. 

 

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