If your favorite website seems to load slowly today, take a closer look: You might be experiencing the Battle for the Net’s “Internet Slowdown,” a global day of action. The Internet won’t actually be slowing down, but many sites are placing on their homepages animated “Loading” graphics , which organizers call “the proverbial 'spinning wheel of death,'” to symbolize what the Internet might soon look like. Large Internet service providers, or ISPs, like Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T and Verizon, are trying to change the rules that govern the Internet. Some of the biggest companies on the Internet — Netflix, Mozilla, Kickstarter, Etsy and WordPress — are joining today’s Internet Slowdown to draw attention to net neutrality, the principle that service providers shouldn’t be allowed to speed up, or slow down, loading times on certain websites, such as their competitors. This comes as 27 online advocacy groups sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler Tuesday, calling on him to participate in town hall-style public hearings on net neutrality before ruling on the issue as early as this year. We are joined by Tim Karr of the group Free Press, one of the main organizers of the Internet Slowdown global day of action.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: If your favorite website seems to load slowly today, take a closer look: You might be experiencing the Battle for the Net’s, quote, “Internet Slowdown,” a global day of action. The Internet won’t actually be slowing down, but many sites are placing on their home pages animated “Loading” graphics, which organizers call “the proverbial 'spinning wheel of death.'” They’ll symbolize what the Internet might soon look like. As that wheel spins, the rules about how the Internet works are being redrawn. Large Internet service providers, or ISPs, like Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T and Verizon, are trying to change the rules that govern the Internet.
AMY GOODMAN: Some of the biggest companies on the Internet are joining today’s Internet Slowdown to draw attention to net neutrality, that principle that service providers shouldn’t be allowed to speed up, or slow down, loading times on certain websites, such as their competitors. They include Netflix, Mozilla, Kickstarter, Etsy, WordPress.
This comes as 27 online advocacy groups sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chair Tom Wheeler Tuesday, calling on him to participate in town hall-style public hearings on net neutrality before ruling on the issue as early as this year. We asked the FCC for their response to the letter; they didn’t reply by the time of our broadcast.
For more, we’re joined by Tim Karr, senior director of strategy for Free Press, one of the main organizers of the Internet Slowdown today.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Tim.
TIM KARR: Hi.
AMY GOODMAN: Lay it out. Explain exactly what you’re so concerned about.
TIM KARR: Well, the Federal Communications Commission has routinely gotten the issue of net neutrality wrong. And earlier this year, the chairman, Tom Wheeler, put forth a proposal that would allow very powerful websites to dominate the Internet. It would allow Internet service providers to favor their websites and services in a way that degrades access to the rest of the Internet. It creates this two-tiered system. And the Internet was never meant to be that way. So, over the year, there has been this amazing public response rejecting Wheeler’s proposal and asking for real net neutrality protections. Real net neutrality protections involve treating Internet service providers as common carriers, that they are networks that have to move all information equally without discrimination. And today is a culmination of a lot of that effort.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: How many organizations or websites do you have participating in today’s Internet Slowdown?
TIM KARR: Well, we’ll know by the end of the day. I can tell you right now that there are hundreds of tech companies, advocacy organizations and websites that are displaying, as you call it, the spinning wheel of death. And so, but it’s important that the Internet will not be slowing down as a result of that, although one website might slow down. And that is the website of the Federal Communications Commission, which will be receiving a lot of the activism. And the last time we had a moment like this was in mid-July, when there were a lot of people commenting at their website, and it in fact crashed. We don’t want to crash the FCC today. We want comments to come in, and we want them to receive them. We want them to listen to them, and we want them to listen to the overwhelming consensus among the public that real net neutrality protections are needed.
AMY GOODMAN: Netflix spokesperson Anne Marie Squeo issued a statement confirming the site will display the spinning icon on its home page today. She said, quote, “Consumers, not broadband gatekeepers, should pick the winners and losers on the Internet. Strong net neutrality rules are needed to stop Internet service providers from demanding extra fees or slowing delivery of content to consumers who already have paid for Internet access.” Now, Tim, this is very interesting that Netflix is one of those participating, because Netflix really highlighted the problem for so many, as they made a deal to have faster—to be on one of those fast lanes and paying Comcast so that Netflix can stream more easily.
TIM KARR: Yes, and it’s a very good illustration of the type of companies that are protesting the FCC plan. Comcast, for example, has a competing business with Netflix. They provide us with cable television, so it is in their interest, as an Internet service provider, to slow websites like Netflix. But it’s not just large companies like Netflix that are participating. There are Vimeo, which is a great video-streaming website that a lot of documentary filmmakers use; Etsy, which connects artisans and craftspeople with their customers, is participating. There are a lot of these types of websites, that have built their business on an open Internet, that are very actively involved today.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And explain, Tim Karr, why is the U.S. position on this so important.
TIM KARR: The U.S. position is very important. There are debates about net neutrality that are going on throughout the world. The U.S. position is very important because, in many ways, U.S. policy influences policy that’s made in other countries, although I should say that countries like Chile and Brazil are actually a step ahead of us. They have put in place net neutrality rules that are being enforced today.
AMY GOODMAN: But isn’t it more than that? It’s not just the U.S. is influential. So much of the web goes through the United States.
TIM KARR: Much of the web comes through the United States. Much of the routing takes place in the United States. So if there is a potential for a slowdown at that level, it could affect all Internet traffic around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: And as we wrap up, Tom Wheeler, what he formerly did, before President Obama appointed him to the FCC as chair, and what you’re demanding?
TIM KARR: Tom Wheeler formerly served as the chief lobbyist for the cable and telecommunications industry and, prior to that, for the wireless industry. So he has a history of working with industry. And we’re asking him to put those potential biases aside and side with the people and pass real net neutrality protections by reclassifying Internet service providers as common carriers.
AMY GOODMAN: And that means?
TIM KARR: That means that they have to connect all people equally, and they cannot—
AMY GOODMAN: Like telephones we have at home.
TIM KARR: It’s like if you were to pick up your telephone and make a phone call to your favorite pizza joint down the street. Your telephone company is a common carrier. That means they cannot connect you to Domino’s instead. They have to simply make that connection happen and move the traffic without discrimination.
AMY GOODMAN: And the time schedule for all of this happening?
TIM KARR: Well, today is the Internet Slowdown day, so we encourage everyone to participate today. September 15th at the FCC is the deadline for comments, so there will be a couple more days for people to comment. Then the agency is supposed to look at all of these comments and make a ruling based on what people have said. That could happen probably by the end of this year, maybe next year.
AMY GOODMAN: Are there rules that there have to be public forum for this?
TIM KARR: There aren’t rules, but there has been a long tradition with the predecessors for the FCC chairman of meeting with the public in these open hearings, where public—where the people can come forward, they can comment, their comments are entered into the public record. Chairman Wheeler has yet to schedule any of those types of hearings, and we’ve been very adamant that he does that.
AMY GOODMAN: Tim Karr, I want to thank you for being with us, senior director of strategy for Free Press, one of the main organizers of the Internet Slowdown. When we come back from break, we’ll look at the latest developments in the United States and around the world around marijuana decriminalization. Stay with us.