Internet Slowdown Day FAQ: How Netflix, Wordpress, and other web giants are fighting for Net Neutrality

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If you visit sites like BoingBoing, Digg, Upworthy, and Vimeo this morning, you'll probably see some strange behavior such as a strategically placed spinning icon meant to mimic a slow-loading site. The little JavaScript widgets are all part of Wednesday's Internet Slowdown Day—a digital day of action meant to draw attention to the perils of an Internet without net neutrality.

Here's what you need to know about the protest.

What's this all about then?

Internet Slowdown day is designed to inspire more people to offer public comment against the Federal Communication Commission's proposed guidelines for Internet Service Providers. The public comment period for the FCC's proposed rules ends on September 15.

The FCC's proposed rules first came to light in late April. The rules were roundly criticized because they allowed for the possibility of paid prioritization on Internet traffic. In other words, U.S. ISPs would be able to charge content companies for faster traffic delivery to the ISP's customers, creating fast and slow lanes for large and small websites respectively.

Why do I care if Amazon or Reddit has to pay my ISP?

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out in a recent blog post, "you can’t have a fast lane without also having a slower lane." Inevitably, if the ISPs do start charging for faster access there will be smaller companies and websites that can't or won't pay the ISPs. Thus their traffic may be delivered to your PC or tablet at home at a noticeably slower rate, putting larger companies or companies with deeper pockets at an inherent advantage over others on the web.

Aren't some companies were already paying ISPs?

Yes, but they are not technically paying for faster access—although arguably the end result is the same. Right now, companies can end up paying ISPs for direct access to an ISP's network, rather than having to route traffic through other Internet backbone providers, resulting in suddenly faster connection speeds for you. The recent inter-connection agreements between Netflix and all the major U.S. ISPs are probably the most well known of these deals.

Doesn't the FCC say they won't allow for fast and slow lanes?

The FCC hopes to balance paid prioritization by requiring minimum service levels for basic high-speed Internet service. One obvious problem is the FCC's view of what basic speeds are acceptable could fail to match up with what Internet users expect from their ISPs, and could fail to keep pace with increasing broadband speeds over time.

Which websites are participating on Wednesday?

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Vimeo's Internet Slowdown interstitial.

The list of participating websites and civic action groups participating on Wednesday is large, and very similar to the successful SOPA/PIPA protests from 2012.

Notable participating web companies include:

  • Automattic (the company behind WordPress.com),
  • Boing Boing
  • Cheezburger
  • Digg
  • Dwolla
  • Etsy
  • Fark
  • Foursquare
  • iFixit
  • imgur
  • Kickstarter
  • Mozilla
  • Namecheap
  • The Nation
  • Netflix
  • reddit
  • Upworthy
  • Urban Dictionary
  • Vimeo

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Some of the well known civic action groups and other organizations participating include:

American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause, the Center for Media Justice, ColorOfChange, DailyKos, Demand Progress, Democracy for America, Democrats.com, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Engine Advocacy, Fight for the Future, the Free Press Action Fund, the Future of Music Coalition, Greenpeace USA, the Harry Potter Alliance, the Media Alliance, the Media Mobilizing Project, MoveOn, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, OpenMedia, Popular Resistance, Presente.org, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Progressives United, the Other 98%, RootsAction, Rootstrikers, the Sierra Club, SumOfUs, Voqal, Women, Action & the Media, the Writers Guild of America, East, and the Writers Guild of America, West.

What exactly are all these websites doing?

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You may see this widget a lot on Wednesday while browsing the web.

All of the participating websites are putting up a JavaScript widget or interstitial that shows a spinning icon meant to imitate a slow-loading site. The site itself will not actually load slower than you're used to.

Exactly what you'll see depends on the site you visit.

There are two standard JavaScript widgets: a small one as you see here and a larger one that you can see at the top of this post. Vimeo is also using its own version with a video explaining why it's against the FCC's proposed regulations. All of the widgets can be dismissed by simply clicking an "X" button.

What can I do to participate?

If you live in the U.S., the most effective thing you can do is submit your own comment to the FCC (whether for or against). The easiest way to do this is to visit the EFF's DearFCC website, which has a simple form you can fill out. Just make sure you submit your comment before September 15.

If you want to support the initiative you can embed a JavaScript widget on your own website. You can also change your Twitter icon to a spinning icon. The code and images for all these actions are available on BattleForTheNet.com.

The Internet Slowdown is a one-day event and all participating sites will return to normal on Thursday.

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