Net Neutrality 'Day of Action': Get ready for ads and popups Wednesday

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Get ready to be inundated by pop-up ads and signup requests all about net neutrality.

The fight over who should be watching out for consumers' rights on the internet comes back full force Wednesday in what has been dubbed a "Day of Action" for net neutrality supporters.

What is "net neutrality"?

Roughly two or three years ago, internet providers (Comcast, AT&T, Charter, etc.) wanted to create a tiered system so that content providers (Netflix, Google, Amazon, etc.) could pay more to have their websites load faster on your computer and smartphone. Their argument was that larger companies, especially streaming companies like Netflix and Hulu, were eating up massive chunks of their bandwidth so those companies should have to pay their fair share.

Not surprisingly, those content providers weren't happy about the idea of having to pay more to get access to their customers. They were joined by smaller companies that argued it would kill competition because they would never be able to pay on the same level as larger, more established companies.

The tiered system also raised questions about corporate ownership. For example, would it allow Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, to make it easier for anyone using their XFINITY internet service to stream NBC programs while throttling streaming speeds for CBS, ABC, FOX and other competitors' content?

Enter "net neutrality" - the idea that it should be illegal to have such a tiered system.

Where are we now?

The Federal Communications Commission created new regulations in February 2015 stopping any such tiered system from being created. At that time, though, the FCC's membership was three Democrats and two Republicans under the Obama administration. Fast forward to 2017 and the FCC is now made up of three Republicans and two Democrats under the Trump administration.

Ajit Pai
Federal Communication Commission Commissioner Ajit Pai speaks during an open hearing and vote on "Net Neutrality" in Washington on Feb. 26, 2015 (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

In April, the FCC's new chairman, Ajit Pai, who opposed net neutrality in 2015, unveiled a plan to kill the 2015 regulations, saying they have stopped internet companies from investing in their infrastructure and expanding into more rural areas because it's harder to make their money back. He also claimed that drop in investment has cost 75,000 to 100,000 jobs such as laying cable and digging trenches to help bring high-speed internet access to rural and low income areas.

"Nothing about the internet was broken in 2015," he said in April 2017. "It was all about politics."

"No, the purpose is control for control's sake," Pai said in a February 2015 joint op-ed with Lee Goodman, the other Republican commissioner on the FCC at the time the regulations were passed. "Digital dysfunction must be conjured into being to justify a public-sector power grab. Aside from being a bad deal for everyone who relies on the Internet, this Beltway-centric plan also distracts the FCC from what it should be focusing on: increasing broadband competition and giving consumers better broadband choices."

Why are protesters rallying now?

The commission voted in May to start rolling back those regulations. The repeal can't happen right away, though. They're now in the middle of a public comment period. You have until the end of August to sound off about whether you think the commission should or should not repeal those regulations.

Notices like this are scheduled to appear on popular websites such as Etsy, Mozilla, Vimeo and Kickstarter on Wednesday, July 12, 2017, as part of the net neutrality "Day of Action" (photo courtesy protest group Battle for the Net)

Protesters are focusing their efforts all on Wednesday, July 12 to spur as many Americans as possible to pressure the commission to reverse course and leave net neutrality in place.

What are protesters doing and how will it affect me?

More than 170 organizations and content providers that support net neutrality have joined together to demonstrate what they believe the internet will be like if a tiered system is put into place. If you go to one of their sites - including Amazon, Etsy, Netflix, Vimeo, Airbnb, Funny or Die, Pinterest and Yelp - you'll likely get a pop-up ad imitating an error message that also prompts you to sign their petition to protect net neutrality.

The third side of this story

Much is made of wanting news coverage to include "both sides" of the issue. In many cases, though, there are more than just two sides - and this is one of those cases.

The internet was originally classified as an information service, which means the government was not allowed to have any hand in it. In order to stop internet service providers from creating a tiered system, the 2015 regulations reclassified it as a Title II telecommunications service like phone companies.

With that new power to regulate internet companies, the FCC passed rules saying that any company providing a broadband connection to your home or phone would have to act in the public interest and conduct business in ways that are "just and reasonable."

Some of those companies now affected by that ruling such as AT&T and Comcast have indicated they plan to participate in the protest Wednesday - but for a different reason and in a different manner.

Comcast says they support net neutrality - they just don't believe the 2015 regulations protect net neutrality.

Comcast is already sharing messages like this on social media (graphic courtesy Comcast)

"We have and will continue to support strong, legally enforceable net neutrality protections that ensure a free and Open Internet for our customers, with consumers able to access any and all the lawful content they want at any time," Comcast executive vice president David Cohen wrote in a blog post.

Rather than laying out a detailed plan of what policy or policies would truly protect net neutrality, Cohen called on Congress to act on the subject instead of leaving it to a government agency like the FCC.

"It’s now time for Republicans and Democrats, internet service providers, edge providers and the internet community as a whole to come together and work toward a legislative solution," he wrote. "Bipartisan legislation, as was envisioned back in 2010 by then Congressman Henry Waxman and Cliff Stearns, would solve both the authority issue and end the gamesmanship on the substance of net neutrality rules."

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