Shortly after the Federal Communications Commission announced its intention to impose changes to standing Net neutrality rules, which now insure equal access to the Internet, businesses and consumers took to the Web to protest.
"Don't let the #FCC break the Internet. Tell @TomWheelerFCC to restore Net Neutrality," entrepreneur, Reddit co-founder, and investor Alexis Ohanian tweeted Friday.
Ohanian's tweet is part of a chorus of voices angered by the FCC's move to change the rules governing Net Neutrality. The rule changes--which involve allowing companies to pay service providers for speedier connections--are expected to come down the pike on May 15.
Should the FCC have its way, many worry that the Internet will become just another plaything of large corporate interests and the wealthiest 1 percent. Further, they say, the changes would make things more expensive, if not impossible, for small businesses that need to use it as the backbone of their services.
In addition to Twitter, Internet activists, venture capitalists, and technology companies are said to be preparing a day of protest in Washington in May, and activists have filed a protest petition to the White House objecting to the changes. The petition had gathered nearly 11,000 signatures by mid-day Friday. The petition objects to the alleged anti-competitive nature of the proposed changes:
Recently the FCC has moved to redefine "net neutrality" to mean that corporations and organizations can pay to have their information heard, or worse, the message of their competitors silenced. We as a nation must settle for nothing less than complete neutrality in our communication channels. This is not a request, but a demand by the citizens of this nation.
Netflix similarly complained about the implications of the FCC's proposed rule changes, even though, in February, it had reached a financial arrangement with cable provider Comcast for direct access to its pipes and consumers. The arrangement is seen as a harbinger of things to come: Those with the deepest pockets will shell out, while those who can't afford to pay will get shut out.
Ken Florance, vice-president of content delivery for Netflix, wrote on Thursday on his blog:
There cannot be an "intensely competitive" market when Comcast alone sets the terms and conditions for access to Comcast subscribers. Comcast can simply refuse to provide capacity to any network at any time, constraining the ability for Comcast users to use the services they want.
Florance's concerns were echoed by business groups and industry analysts, who see Comcast's proposed merger with Time Warner as a potential monopoly that could force startups out of business.
Reacting to the firestorm of protest on Thursday, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler attempted to allay concerns with his own blog post.
To be clear, this is what the Notice will propose:
1. That all ISPs must transparently disclose to their subscribers and users all relevant information as to the policies that govern their network;
2. That no legal content may be blocked; and
3.That ISPs may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.
Similarly, Comcast pushed back against Netflix and others with its statement on Net neutrality:
Netflix’s argument is a House of Cards.... No ISP in the country has been a stronger supporter of the Open Internet than Comcast--and we remain committed both to providing our customers with a free and open Internet and to supporting appropriate FCC rules to ensure that consumers' access to the Internet is protected in a legally enforceable way.
But others were adamant that changes to Net neutrality did not bode well for startups like Aereo, a disruptive business that the cable companies fear because it allows consumers to bypass their firewalls by streaming their content directly to laptops and other connected devices.
Technology writer Brian Fung wrote in The Washington Post Friday, that overturning Net neutrality could spell the end for Aereo:
Given the broadcasters' impatience with Aereo, it's not hard to imagine them following through on that threat, starting their own Internet video services and then negotiating with Internet providers such as Comcast or Verizon for better, smoother downloads for customers--just the sort of deals that the FCC's new Net neutrality proposal would enable.
Meanwhile, Aereo would either be forced to spend valuable resources trying to keep up with the broadcasters or accept traveling over the non-fast-lane Internet.