Netflix, Reddit stage ‘Internet slowdown’ to protest new rules

Major websites and advocacy groups are launching their most public protest yet against proposed federal rules they warn could lead to “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” on the Internet.

Wednesday’s “Internet Slowdown” will have sites like Netflix, Etsy and Reddit teaming up with activist groups from the American Civil Liberties Union to Demand Progress to voice support for strong Federal Communications Commission regulations on net neutrality — the notion that Internet service providers like Comcast or Cox should treat all online traffic equally.  

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Without tough rules than ban Internet service providers from cutting deals with websites to speed up their traffic, most of the Web could be stuck in the “slow lane,” the groups argue.

Sites won’t actually slow service for users but will instead post “loading” icons and other banners to raise support for strong rules and urge people to contact the FCC.

“If there were Internet slow lanes, you’d still be waiting,” said one banner that some websites are using.

If the protest resonates as much as comedian John Oliver’s memorable HBO monologue did earlier this year, the action could help to raise public awareness around an issue that many people have dismissed as too technical and in the weeds. 

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 Web’s first major show of force in Washington.

“If the FCC signs off on Chairman Tom Wheeler’s net neutrality-killing plan to allow discrimination online, much of what we love about the Internet will be relegated to the slow lane, regardless of how we connect,” she wrote.

The action is not without its share of criticism.

The head of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation — a think tank linked to a tech industry trade group that has advocated for a “light regulatory touch” for the Web — called the protest a “scare tactic” that uses “the imaginary boogie man of ‘slow lanes’ ” to gain support for utility-styles rules for the Internet.

“This ‘technological McCarthyism’ is a dangerous game and has no place in broadband regulation narrowly, or tech policy more broadly,” Robert Atkinson said in a statement.

Wednesday’s protest 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 Wheeler's proposal, the most ever for a regulatory process. The public response is closing in on the record of 1.4 million comments the FCC received following Janet Janet’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl.