Net-Neutrality Activists Stage Internet Slowdown -- but It's Only Symbolic

Online Protest Is Intended to Raise Awareness About Net Neutrality

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It's a slow-down in name only. Launched last night, today's "Internet Slowdown" is a web initiative aimed at raising awareness about the negative effects of potential Internet rule changes. But consumers don't have to fret over slowly loading videos or cat pictures.

The protest is manifested by an animated gif representing time lapsing as files load, which is meant to serve as a recognizable symbol of a sluggish Internet experience. That and other images link to tools connecting people via phone with congressional members' offices to express their opinions on net neutrality, or allowing them to sign a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler.

"We are writing to urge you to implement strong and unambiguous net neutrality rules that protect the internet from discrimination and other practices that will impede its ability to serve our democracy, empower consumers, and fuel economic growth," begins the letter on the Battle for the Net site.

Some west coast-based sites expected to participate were themselves slow to show support of the "Internet Slowdown" today. Humor site and liberal political site DailyKos were among those late to the protest this morning.

The latest example of pro-net neutrality web activism officially began at midnight, according to the Battle for the Net website, home to the virtual "Internet Slowdown" event, a collaboration of Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, Free Press and Engine, an organization dedicated to tech entrepreneurship and economic research.

New York-based sites such as Etsy and Foursquare displayed the movement's icon this morning. Some left-coasters started early: San Francisco's Boing Boing took a cue from Austin, Texas, with its large "Keep the Internet Weird" headline linking to an article supporting net neutrality.

Netflix joined in, too, featuring the symbol at the bottom right of its homepage.

"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. Any FCC rules must ensure access to content without ISPs favoring, impeding or charging particular content companies," said a Netflix spokeswoman.

However, it appeared that Netflix members who were already signed into the site may not have seen the image on their personalized homepages.

Cheezburger did feature the protest image and information on its corporate site, though the consumer-facing showed no sign of a pro-net neutrality plea.

UPDATE: "We posted about this first on our company blog on Sept 9. because that's where our users go to get news about what Cheezburger is doing," said Emily Huh, director of business development for Cheezburger, in an email sent to Ad Age. "We let our users know that Internet Slowdown Day was on September 10. We then posted about it on our main sites on September 10 (when Internet Slowdown Day is) since that's when the majority of the momentum was happening and what we had worked out with the organizers of Internet Slowdown Day." After checking the Cheezburger homepage multiple times throughout the morning of Sept. 10, Ad Age found no indication of the Internet Slowdown posts.

The FCC currently is accepting comments regarding whether the agency will establish a multi-tiered system of fast and slow lanes for delivery of Internet content. Cable companies providing Internet service are gunning for the tiered approach which would allow them to charge site publishers more for bulkier content that they argue clogs their delivery pipes.

According to the commission, more than 1.1 million comments had been filed by August 4. A ruling on the matter by Chairman Wheeler is expected before the end of the year.

In related news, the man who coined the "net neutrality" phrase, Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu, lost his bid for lieutenant governor in yesterday's New York State Democratic Primary, along with his running mate, gubernatorial hopeful and digital politics vet Zephyr Teachout.

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