Net neutrality has been a hot topic in tech circles for some time, but it was not something that made the general public sit up and take notice. Recently, however, there has been a groundswell of protest against new FCC regulations regarding the internet – regulations that could threaten fair and equal access to online content.

 

What is Net Neutrality?

 

In 2010, the FCC laid out a set of rules designed to keep internet service providers (ISPs) from changing service delivery rules based on specific types of content. They could not, for example, slow down sites that used a lot of bandwidth, nor could they charge companies a premium to ensure content delivery.

 

These rules forced ISPs to treat all content, all websites, and all customers the same. Users had to receive the same speed and quality of service delivery whether they were researching a term paper, chatting with friends on social media, or streaming movies on Amazon Prime.  ISPs could not allow content providers to pay extra for speedier delivery, nor could they punish sites that could not afford to pay such premiums.

 

Supporters of net neutrality applauded these rules, as they believed that access to the internet in this day and age is a right that should be afforded everyone. They also believed that without regulation by the FCC, ISPs would go rogue and enter into shakedown-style arrangements with content providers, demanding premium payments for high-speed content delivery.

 

But net neutrality supporters were dealt a blow in the early months of 2014, when a US Appeals Court in Washington stated that the FCC had no right to bar ISPs from slowing down or blocking internet speeds. The decision has allowed ISPs to begin negotiating individual deals with content providers and websites when it comes to their content delivery speed.

 

In reaction to the decision, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a former cable-company lobbyist, has put forth a proposal that would essentially create a “fast lane” and a “slow lane” on the internet. Large corporations like Amazon, Apple, and Netflix, would be able to pay a premium to ensure their content is delivered quickly. Also in that fast lane would be consumers who could afford to pay a premium to their ISPs. Smaller websites and consumers who can’t afford premiums, would be left in the slow lane.

 

Late Night Host Leads the Charge

 

All of this happened very quietly, with only lawmakers and tech companies really paying much attention. The ins and outs of government regulations can be dry and boring, and average internet users simply were not interested in the topic of something called, “Net Neutrality.”

Things are rapidly beginning to change. As the loss of net neutrality becomes a reality, the general public is starting to sit up and take notice. Recently, late-night comedian John Oliver of the HBO show, “Last Week Tonight,” devoted a 13-minute rant on the topic of net neutrality.

 

net neutrality

 

Throughout the segment, he noted that, “What is being proposed is so egregious that activists and corporations have been forced onto the same side.”  He addresses the billions of dollars that cable companies (who are also ISPs) spend each year, lobbying to keep lawmakers on their side. He points out that President Obama appointed the former head of the cable lobby to run the FCC, which he likened to hiring a dingo as a nanny. He ended with a plea to Internet commenters of the troll variety to take to the FCC’s website, which is now open for public comment on the issue of net neutrality, bellowing, “for once in your lives, focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction. Seize your moment, my lovely trolls!”

 

The segment was uploaded to YouTube late on a Sunday night after Oliver’s broadcast, where it became a viral sensation, generating over 1.6 million views in two days. Over the same two days, 22,000 comments appeared on the FCC’s site, apparently in direct response to Oliver’s video, and the deluge of traffic actually crashed the site several times.

 

In total, the FCC has received more than 65,000 comments on neutrality, with 45,000 of them coming in the last month.  Public comments were open on May 15, 2014 for a period of 120 days, with 60 day open for initial comments and 60 days for replies to those comments.

 

The People Take Action

 

Consumers are not just using their keyboards to ensure their voices are heard.  There have been “occupy” style protests outside FCC headquarters, and various rallies held in Washington, DC to help draw attention to the loss of net neutrality.

 

net neutrality

 

The team at the popular social-sharing site Reddit has also been making an effort to rally the public to speak out against the changing regulations.  In a blog post titled, “Only You Can Protect Net Neutrality,” Reddit spoke directly to its massive user base writing, “If we all want to protect universal access to the communications networks that we all depend on to connect with ideas, information, and each other, then we must stand up for our rights to connect and communicate.”

 

The blog post suggested readers call the offices of the FCC directly to address their concerns about net neutrality. There is no way to tell just how many people have called them, but all signs point to high call volume. Current callers to the FCC’s public line are met with a recording that says, “If your call concerns the open internet, please email your thoughts to openinternet@fcc.gov.”

 

It seems that the initial groundswell of public outrage has been gaining some traction. Members of Congress and even FCC staffers have been touting the plan as “flawed” and have asked Chairman Tom Wheeler not to move forward with his two-tiered internet proposal. It remains to be seen where the chips will fall on the open internet. Protecting net neutrality will be a long and ongoing process for those who believe that a two-tiered system is unjust.