FCC's dull plans for Internet get viral, angry response

07/29/2014 12:11 PM

07/29/2014 12:42 PM

This summer the dull-sounding technology term “network neutrality” prompted street protests and viral web campaigns, crashing the Federal Communications Commission’s website with a record-breaking flood of over a million comments from the public.

Growing alarm about big companies controlling online content has led to an unprecedented amount of public participation in a phase of the FCC’s regulatory process usually reserved for lawyers and policy wonks.

The firestorm was sparked by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to allow Internet service providers like AT&T and Verizon to charge companies to move their content through a speedier lane. Opponents say this “pay for play” model kills net neutrality, which means the equal treatment of all web content without interference.

“It’s effectively censorship and it’s an unacceptable mode of oppression, whether governments do it or corporations,” said April Glaser, a staff activist with the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Under Wheeler’s proposal, companies like Google, Netflix and Skype would be able to use their deep pockets to pay extra for a faster pipe that ensures smoother, speedier streaming for their users. Public interest groups argue that this gives the big companies an unfair advantage, discriminating against other content as well as against innovative new companies that can’t afford to pay the toll.

“For example, a mainstream story on CNN’s site would be much faster than the website to an alternative media outlet with a piece on gun violence in an underrepresented neighborhood,” Glaser said.

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