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September 10th, 2014

The Web May Look Slow Today…

Appearances can be deceiving, and in this particular case, they can make a very poignant statement.

To illustrate the point of the “fast lane/slow lane” approach proposed by the Federal Communications Commission, some of the biggest tech players today are leading a symbolic “Internet Slowdown” on their websites in what could be the largest virtual political protest since the 2012 blackouts in opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

What you may see on your screen today is not a true “slowdown,” of course, but rather a unique illustration of what may happen if the FCC goes forward with their proposals and does not keep the proverbial playing field level.

slowdown

Sites across the Internet will display an alert with a symbolic “loading” symbol (a.k.a “the spinning wheel of death”) and promote a call to action for users to push comments to the FCC, Congress, and the White House. Bear in mind that none of these tools actually slow your site down. Instead, they tell visitors about the issue of net neutrality and ask them to contact lawmakers.

In a blog post last week, the advocacy group Fight for the Future outlined that, “Several top websites — including Etsy, Kickstarter, Foursquare, WordPress, Vimeo, reddit, Mozilla, Imgur, Meetup, Cheezburger, Namecheap, Bittorrent, Gandi.net, StartPage, BoingBoing, and Dwolla — announced that they will be joining more than 35 organizations and hundreds of thousands of activists in a day of action that will give a glimpse into what the Internet might look like if the FCC’s proposed rules go into effect.”

Yesterday, Netflix joined that list, making it the largest web entity to promote net neutrality in today’s action.

According to an article on Ars Technica, the FCC’s proposal would require Internet service providers to define a minimum level of service to all legal applications and websites, however “it would not prevent ISPs from charging companines for faster access to Internet users.” Net neutrality advocates contend that “fast lanes” will create two tiers of service, with large companies having an unfair advantage over smaller ones.

Internet slowdownThe Sunlight Foundation, an open-government organization, points out that when examining more than 800,000 comments from the public on the issue, “around two-thirds of commenters objected to the idea of paid priority for Internet traffic, or division of Internet traffic into separate speed tiers.” Reply comments are being accepted by the FCC until Sept 15.

Battle for the Net, one of the primary organizers of today’s effort, says that it’s time to step up. “This is the time to go big, visible, and strong — that’s the only way we can actually win this fight,” says a statement on the site. “We all need to get as many people in our respective audiences motivated to do something. We can make this epic, but only if you help. We need companies to be frontrunners, leaders, and heroes on this, that’s the key ingredient to raising the bar and making sure everyone goes big.”

Want to join in? A wide variety of ways you can help are outlined on the Battle for the Net web site, including items you can put on your site to promote awareness.

So if it appears that in some cases the web appears to be slow, it’s just that: an illusion. Whether it remains just an illusion, or whether cable companies get their way, remains to be seen. Your actions today could make a meaningful contribution to that decision.

Ready to go big?

Larry Cafiero, a.k.a. Larry the Free Software Guy, is a journalist and a Free/Open Source Software advocate. He is involved in several FOSS projects and serves as the publicity chair for the Southern California Linux Expo. Follow him on Twitter: @lcafiero

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