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Internet slowdown day seeks to bring 'battle for the Net' to the FCC's door

Aaron Task
Editor in Chief

Netflix, Reddit, Upworthy and hundreds of other websites are placing those annoying spinning-wheel icons on their home pages today -- you know, the ones you get when the Web is loading. But don't call your broadband provider or cable company. These sites are joining a online effort called Internet Slowdown Day designed to protest the FCC's plan to allow content provides to pay for faster lanes on the Internet.

Supporters of so-called net neutrality believe all data is created equal and should be uniformly accessible to users who have already paid for Internet access. "At Yahoo, we firmly believe that a free and open Internet is critical to ensure our users have unfettered access to content and tools that enhance their lives," reads a statement from Yahoo! Inc., our corporate parent and my employer.

Organizers of Internet Slowdown Day say the FCC's proposal will give unfair advantage to entrenched players and stifle innovative startups who presumably can't afford to pay for faster lanes. They also claim it will give cable companies too much control over the Web.

"Under the proposed rules, cable giants like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon would be able to create a two-tiered Internet, with slow lanes (for most of us) and fast lanes (for wealthy corporations that are willing pay fees in exchange for fast service)," reads a statement at Battleforthenet.com, the landing page for Internet Slowdown Day. "Cable companies would have the power to discriminate against online content and applications — they could pick winners and losers, shake sites down for fees, block content for political reasons, and make it easier for Internet users to view cable content. (For instance, Comcast owns NBC, and so has incentives to make it easier to view NBC content than that of other providers.)"

The organizers of Internet Slowdown Day, groups like Free Press, Demand Progress and Fight for the Future, are calling themselves Team Internet and urging individuals and companies to voice their support for net neutrality by "taking a stand for 'Title II reclassification', the only option that lets the FCC stop Team Cable from breaking the key principles of the Internet we love."

Team Internet vs Team Cable

Title II refers to the Communications Act; supporters believe getting Internet access reclassified as a "common carrier" under the Act will preserve net neutrality.

'Team Cable' refers to industry giants AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner Cable.

So what do the cable companies say about this? Here's a statement from the official blog of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the industry’s primary lobbying group:

It’s unfortunate, but not surprising, that the debate over how to enact reasonable net neutrality protections for consumers has come to this – a PR stunt called Internet Slowdown Day to suggest how ISPs are going to ruin the consumer Internet experience. Of course, this isn’t true. Internet Slowdown Day is sure to make a splash. It’ll drive a lot of attention to Net Neutrality, Title II regulation, and the role of ISPs in America’s broadband future. Before buying into the hype, ask yourself: Does this make sense? Would an industry that has invested over $200 billion into creating one of the largest, fastest, most comprehensive broadband networks on earth, really be trying to “destroy the Internet?”

 

In the accompanying video, I discuss net neutrality and Internet Slowdown Day with Henry Blodget, who admits to being "mixed" on the issue. Using the various delivery options at the Post Office as an example, he notes "paying for speed is absolutely part of the system on the sending side" so the FCC proposal "makes some sense" because "bits costs money to transport" even if "everyone wants everything for free."

Still, Blodget agrees the proposal is "dangerous" because "it means if you've got a boatload of money you can afford much better service than the startup."

Obviously there's a lot at stake here and this is an issue which generates strong emotions. Somewhat lost in the debate and the focus on Internet Slowdown Day is the next phase of the battle has already begun: On Tuesday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said mobile carriers -- which were exempted in 2010 because mobile was deemed an 'emerging technology' -- should be subject to the same rules and regulations as land-based providers, which only further ups the ante for the forces aligned against the FCC's proposal.

Aaron Task is Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter at @aarontask or email him at altask@yahoo.com.