A Slow Internet Protest

anigifToday, on many sites across the Internet, you might see a loading sign instead of your favorite content.  No, the Internet hasn’t broken down.  Not yet, anyway.  Instead, these sites are taking part in "Internet Slowdown Day."

What is Internet Slowdown Day?

No, it’s not a day to get offline (though that might be an unintended result).  Instead, it’s a day to protest against the government and big ISPs who want to dismantle Network Neutrality.  I’ve written about this topic before in Save Our Internet and My Open Letter To The FCC Concerning Network Neutrality.  Here’s a quick refresher, though:

Today, if you want to get a piece of data from a server, you make a request from the server that holds the data.  That request travels up your ISP’s lines, to the ISP that hosts the server, to the server which starts sending the data.  That data now flows back down the server’s ISP’s lines to your ISP and finally to your computer.  Granted, this is a simplified description, but the point is that it doesn’t matter whether you are requesting a video from Netflix or a photo of a funny cat.  All of the data is treated the same.  Furthermore, the same data from two different sources get treated the same.  So it doesn’t matter if your video request is to Netflix, YouTube, or some tiny new video company.

This isn’t the way the ISPs want the Internet to work, though.

For years, the ISPs have looked at the money that some sites make, especially Internet video companies like Netflix, and have seen them as threats to their own video offerings.  For example, if you could get all of your video needs from Netflix, you might not need to pay extra for a cable TV subscription.  Obviously, the ISPs don’t like this and have been trying to fix this.

Their solution is to claim that we need an "Internet Fast Lane."  The way this would work (as far as the ISPs say) would be that all traffic would operate as it does now, except companies could pay the ISPs for access to the "fast lane" to deliver their data faster.  The way it would really work is as follows:

  1. The "non-fast" lane would quickly become a slow lane.  The more sites that pay for fast lane access, the more money the ISPs would get.   If the non-fast lane is too fast, sites won’t want to pay so the ISPs will have a financial incentive to slow things down.  In addition, any new upgrades will go towards the money-generating fast lane, not towards the non-revenue-producing slow lane.
  2. Big companies would be able to afford to pay for fast lane access at every ISP.  Smaller companies wouldn’t be able to afford this and thus would get stuck in the slow lane.
  3. Exclusive deals might be cut to force competitors into a slow lane.  For example, imagine what would happen if Amazon cut a deal with Comcast to make Amazon the "official Comcast Internet Video streaming site."  Netflix’s traffic would slow down while Amazon’s sped up.  This would lead to Comcast customers leaving Netflix and going to Amazon.  Meanwhile, users on Cox might find the opposite to be true.  The Internet video streaming sites that are usable might wind up depending on what ISP you are in.

Of course, we don’t have to worry about this because people could just leave their ISP if the ISP tried this, right?  Wrong.

Most people have a choice of only one or two fixed-line broadband options.  This means there isn’t much of a choice to switch.

Still, all this is theoretical, right?

Wrong.  Check out this graph of Netflix speeds for Comcast users.  That dip in October of 2013 is when users started noticing trouble.  Netflix complained to Comcast who feigned innocence.  They, instead, blamed Netflix for the problem.  Then, Netflix started paying Comcast protection money to improve Netflix’s speed.  Look at the graph and see if you can spot when that was.  If you said January/February of 2014, you’d be right.

So ISPs are willing to monkey with the speeds of the sites we want to access, don’t feel any competitive pressure due to being monopolies or duopolies, see dollar signs if they do this, and have teams of lobbyists telling Washington that their way is the best.  The only thing that can stop them?  The people.  If Internet Users, en masse, tell the government that they want Network Neutrality protected and that they don’t want their Internet broken by greedy ISPs, then we might just win and our favorite sites won’t have to show "Loading Because We Couldn’t Afford Fast Lane" spinning wheels.

NOTE: The image above comes from BattleForTheNet.com and was offered to sites to display to help fight for our Internet.