Net neutrality backers plan slow-lane protest

Several large websites will display site-loading spinning wheel icons to symbolize slow connections

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Several high-profile websites -- including Kickstarter, Etsy, Reddit, Mozilla and Meetup -- will display spinning-wheel icons next Wednesday in an attempt to show visitors the Internet slow lanes they say will appear if the U.S. Federal Communications Commission doesn't pass strong net neutrality regulations.

The symbolic Internet slowdown will include the dreaded site-loading spinning icon to symbolize what net neutrality advocates believe the Web could look like without strong rules. Participating sites, which won't really slow down their load times, will encourage visitors to call or email U.S. policymakers in support of net neutrality rules.

Without strong net neutrality rules, the Internet could be divided into slow and fast lanes, many net neutrality advocates say. Earlier this year, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed new net neutrality rules that would allow broadband providers to engage in "commercially reasonable" traffic management, and many net neutrality advocates suggested his rules would lead to a slower Internet for many websites.

Among the organizations participating in Wednesday's protest will be BitTorrent, BoingBoing, Vimeo, Foursquare and Wordpress, said organizers Demand Progress and Fight for the Future. Also participating will be a group of porn Web sites, Pornhub and YouPorn among them, according to a post on Reddit.com.

"We won't be shutting down or streaming your porn slower," a Pornhub employee wrote. "There will be a big in-your-face message that users will need to close."

Also supporting the protest, which comes five days before an FCC deadline for second-round comments in the agency's net neutrality proceeding, are several advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Engine Advocacy and the Free Press Action Fund.

Meanwhile, free-market think tank TechFreedom launched its own net neutrality campaign this week. TechFreedom's DontBreakThe.Net campaign called on the FCC to resist calls by many net neutrality advocates to reclassify broadband service as a common-carrier public utility subject to a wide range of FCC regulations.

TechFreedom, which counts Google, Facebook, Comcast and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association as major funders, said reclassifying broadband under the regulation-heavy Title II of the Telecommunications Act would lead to years of lawsuits challenging the FCC's authority to do so.

"This debate is no longer about net neutrality," Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, said by email. "A radical fringe has hijacked the conversation in an attempt to undo two decades of bipartisan consensus against heavy-handed government control of the Internet."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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