What is the Internet Slowdown?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 is the Internet Slowdown, a protest in support of “net neutrality“. Currently internet service providers (ISPs) are not required to provide the same internet delivery speeds to all traffic.  In theory they can decide to speed up or slow down data from individual websites. The fear of the supporters of net neutrality is that the ISPs will only provide fast access to those sites that pay them extra money.  This has the potential to have a large economic impact on small businesses and noncommercial entities (such as Universities and Libraries) who can’t afford to pay to be in the “internet fast lane”. It could also have ethical consequences if ISPs have the ability to suppress the messages of certain sites by controlling their network speeds. For a visual representation of what preferential network speeds could look like in practice, see A Guide to the Open Internet.

The proposed alternative is for the FCC to classify the ISPs as “common carriers“, like the phone service providers.  The ISPs believe that this is unnecessary and would add a heavy burden of regulation to their businesses (see http://www.ncta.com/platform/public-policy/why-its-a-good-thing-that-broadband-isnt-a-common-carrier/.  These issues are at the heart of the debate for net neutrality, or the argument that ISPs should let all internet data move across the network at relatively equal speeds. According to net neutrality advocates, fighting against the preferential treatment of certain sites and services keeps the web on a level playing field where new businesses and messages can have a fair shot at growth without the disadvantage of slower network speeds. It also sets a legal precedent for keeping the internet unregulated by private corporations, which is an important part of what makes the internet such a valuable tool for the free exchange of information. If network traffic is not treated equally, it could have an adverse effect on libraries and educational institutions by relegating them to the “slow lane”. This makes net neutrality an especially important issue for librarians and students.

On September 10, major sites across the web who stand for net neutrality will protest with banners and pop-ups like the one below which attempt to simulate the slow network speeds we could experience if ISPs are not regulated.. These sites include companies like Netflix, Etsy, Tumblr, Kickstarter, Reddit, Upworthy, and Vimeo, as well as organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Greenpeace, MoveOn.org, and the Center for Media Justice.

Whether you are for or against it, net neutrality is an important topic for the future of the web. See battleforthenet.com for more information about the Internet Slowdown. To learn more about the importance of net neutrality for libraries and educational organizations, see the American Library Association.

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