The largest coordinated Internet protest in history helped bring down the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in 2012. Today, online companies and advocates are attempting to duplicate that effort to help save net neutrality, the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated the same.
Two years ago, a conglomerate of the biggest companies on the Internet, ranging from Wikipedia to Google and Reddit, blocked access to their own sites for a day to protest SOPA and PIPA. The protest was designed to simulate the kind of black out that the proposed legislation would allow the U.S. government to impose on sites that were accused of unlawfully hosting or distributing copyrighted content.
The tactic worked, the demonstration grabbed the attention of the general public and lawmakers alike, and the effort eventually led to the proposed laws being scrapped by Congress.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that a similar group of large and influential companies is gearing up to combat the FCC’s new rules that some say would effectively end net neutrality.
The proposed rules, which are being rewritten because a federal appeals court struck down the previous Open Internet Rules, would may allow service providers more power to decide which sites move faster than others. Commissioners will vote on the new rules on May 15.
"What so many of us fear, if we lose net neutrality, is that the best ideas might not win because they're the best," Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian told the Journal. "The incumbents may stay on top because they've cut deals with this oligopoly."
Netflix, a company that uniquely represents that scenario, is also expected to join the fight for net neutrality. The video streaming service cut a deal to better deliver their streams with Comcast shortly after the appeal court's January decision, followed by striking a deal with Verizon just last week.
Netflix stands to cement its position as the top online streaming video service with faster speeds than their competitors, but they have reportedly spoken in favor of net neutrality directly with the FCC in private meetings. Essentially, they are now paying for the same video streaming speeds that were available before the January ruling. Netflix is presumably unhappy about having to pay Comcast for streaming speeds that are only average among other providers. Numbers for the Verizon deal are not yet available.
The following chart from the Washington Post shows what has happened to video streaming speeds since the FCC’s decision:
charging Netflix for access to its subscribers is a way to stifle competition.
But Netflix and Reddit are not alone. The Internet Association, a lobbying group that works on behalf of the Internet industry, is also getting ready to take up the cause in earnest.
"We may not have the army of lobbyists some other industries might, but I think the users are on our side and they are going to be vocal," Internet Association CEO Michael Beckerman told the Wall Street Journal. The association did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this article.
The FCC has not responded to a request for comment.
Marvin Ammori, a net neutrality activist and lawyer, says that the fight is only getting started, but until it actually happens, it remains unclear exactly how large it will actually be compared to the SOPA protest.
"There'll be actions, but not sure if there'll be *one* day of action again," he told Fusion in an email. "But I think a lot of small and large sites will do something, from filing to the FCC to emailing their users to communicating with their employees."
He especially expects a lot of movement on the issue around May 15, the day that the FCC will take vote on whether to formally propose the leaked rules.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.