Online protest fights deregulation of internet-service providers

This article originally appeared on ZDNet.

There’s one issue that Americans agree on. Regardless of income and education levels, race, gender or even whether they’re Democrats and Republicans, Americans want strong net neutrality. Unfortunately, President Trump’s picked man at the head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, is well on his way to destroying net neutrality.

According to a recent Civis Analytics poll, 77 percent of Americans support keeping former President Obama’s strong net neutrality rules and over 80 percent agree with the principles of net neutrality. Specifically, “73 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Democrats, and 76 percent of Independents want to keep the FCC’s Open Internet rules. 81 percent of Americans agree that ISPs should not … block or throttle websites or charge extra for preferred access to consumers.”

All of which is exactly what Pai and the big last-mile internet companies such as AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and the umbrella lobby of large ISPs, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, want.

Under Pai and company’s rules, ISPs will be able to record your web activities, sell your data, hijack your searches, and, oh yes, interfere with your access to some sites. For example, AT&T will be happy to give you free access to its video-streaming service DirecTV Now, but it will charge you its usual rates for watching Netflix, YouTube, SlingTV, etc, etc. We can also also be sure that ISPs will offer you a “fast” lane to some sites, while slowing down access to others with bandwidth throttling.

Proponents of net neutrality protest against Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai outside the American Enterprise Institute before his arrival May 5, 2017, in Washington.

Proponents of net neutrality protest against Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai outside the American Enterprise Institute before his arrival May 5, 2017, in Washington.

Pai argues that what he’s really doing is freeing ISPs from burdensome regulations, they’ll be more profitable and thus more inclined to expand bandwidth. In short, it’s an argument for a free and open market. There’s only one little problem with this. ISPs, as we all know, don’t compete in a free and open market. They’ve divided the country into regional monopolies.

How many of us have a real choice between broadband providers? Darn few of us.

So, to wake the government up, almost 200 companies, such as Amazon, Google, Twitter, Reddit, and Mozilla, along with advocacy groups such as the ACLU, Change.org, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have organized an internet-wide protest.

They’ve been loosely organized in the Battle for the Net on July 12 by three pro-net-neutrality groups: Fight for the FutureFree Press Action Fund, and Demand Progress. Here’s what will happen.

Most sites will display a prominent JavaScript-powered alert on their homepage that warns visitors that net neutrality is in danger. Messages include, “Sorry, we’re stuck in the slow lane,” “This site has been blocked by your ISP” and “Please upgrade your plan to proceed.” Each includes an easy-to-fill-out form to send Congress and the FCC a pro-net-neutrality message.

None of these messages will actually block, slow, or paywall sites. They will appear only once, so visitors won’t see the same message over and over again at a given site.

The protesters have also supplied social network users with sample Facebook posts and Twitter tweets. They’re also supplying banners, memes, and many social network-friendly images to help spread the word.

AT&T is trying to co-opt the protest. The company’s websites, channel guides, and apps will feature a banner “proclaiming our support for a free and open internet.”

Will any of this help? We can but try and hope.

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