This week some of the internet’s most popular websites will look quite different, as they participate in a day of action today to oppose changes to US rules which govern net neutrality. More than 80,000 websites including giants such as Facebook, Amazon and Google, are taking part in an online protest on today against the U.S. telecoms regulator’s plan to roll back net neutrality rules.
What is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the principle that an internet service provider (ISP) should give consumers equal access to all legal content regardless of its source.
To put it another way, if the networks which form the bedrock of the internet were a motorway, then under net neutrality, there wouldn’t be fast lanes for cars and slow lanes for lorries. Motorists wouldn’t be able to pay to use a faster route. All data regardless of its size, is on a level playing field.
In practice, what this means is that ISPs – the biggest ones in the US include Comcast, Charter and AT&T – cannot block content, speed up or slow down data from particular websites because they have been paid to do so. And they can’t give preferential treatment to their own content at the expense of their competitors.
Proponents of net neutrality say it’s a matter of fairness, that it limits censorship and ensures that large ISPs can’t unfairly choke off other content providers. But opponents say it amounts to an undue restriction on business, that regulation stifles investment in new technology, and that net neutrality laws are outdated.
What is the Day of Action?
With the deadline for comments on the FCC’s decision looming, tech companies have decided to take coordinated action. On 12 July, huge tech companies such as Amazon will join more than 170 organizations which will “slow down” their services to protest the proposed change. The protest is an attempt to simulate what could potentially happen to popular websites if net neutrality rules are scrapped. The companies will show advertisements and pop ups which encourage users to comment on a dedicated campaign website.