Tech companies go big and small for net neutrality protest

Reddit co-founder defends net neutrality
Reddit co-founder defends net neutrality

Internet companies big and small banded together on Wednesday for an online protest to preserve net neutrality.

It was part of a coordinated "Day of Action" aimed at convincing the Federal Communications Commission to keep in place current net neutrality regulations, which require internet providers treat all content equally. That means no speeding up their own TV streaming services and slowing down a competitor's.

The bigger companies took a subdued approach to the protest. Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg posted about it from their Facebook (FB) accounts. Google (GOOG) Tweeted a link to a blog post. Netflix (NFLX) added a narrow banner to the top of its webpage. Amazon (AMZN) tossed up a vague "Net Neutrality? Learn more" ad on its site.

Most redirected to a GIF-filled landing page created by the Internet Association, a trade group that represents many of the large tech companies. That page directs people to the official FCC comment site, which is accepting public comments on "Restoring Internet Freedom" until July 17.

Related: What to expect from the big net neutrality protest

The online protest was lower key than a similar action five years ago, when Wikipedia, Google and others dramatically blacked out parts of their home pages. That coordinated protest against SOPA and PIPA, two pieces of legislation that people worried would result in online censorship, was successful in killing the proposed bills.

This time around it was the smaller companies and organizations making the most noise. They are the ones that could be most impacted by any tiered system that lets companies pay providers for faster service.

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"Small businesses, startups, and creative online projects are the most likely to be censored, stuck in a slow lane, or shaken down for extra fees by cable companies, it makes perfect sense that they are the ones leading this charge," said Fight the Future's campaign director Evan Greer. 

Reddit visitors had to sit and wait for a slow message about the importance of net neutrality to appear, mimicking the possibility of slowed down content. Mozilla's Firefox browser opened to a grayed out landing page and link to the FCC. OKCupid displayed a message asking daters to "stop the FCC from destroying net neutrality." A PornHub banner warned that "Slow porn sucks." And online personalities like Star Trek actor Wil Wheaton and EDM artist Bassnectar joined in as well.

Related: Amazon, Reddit, Etsy plan to protest for net neutrality

The current FCC rules, put in place during the Obama Administration, treat internet providers such as Comcast and AT&T like public utilities. They prevent providers from speeding up, slowing down or blocking content, or creating different tiers of paid access. (AT&T is seeking to acquire Time Warner, the parent corporation of CNN.)

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, appointed by President Trump in January, says repealing the current net neutrality rules will lead to more innovation.

Fight the Future's Greer disagrees, saying existing rules protect the internet as an open platform. "It underscores the very reason we need net neutrality protections: to make sure that the largest companies aren't able to stifle smaller up and comers and stamp out innovation and diversity of opinion online."

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