Amazon, Netflix and PornHub link arms in net neutrality battle

Technology giants ranging from social networks to porn sites are today rallying around a “day of action” in favour of net neutrality in the US, changing their frontpages five days before proposed action to jettison rules that currently underpin the internet.

Amazon, Netflix and PornHub link arms in net neutrality battle

Donald Trump’s new head of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, wants to scrap Obama-era rules that prevented internet service providers (ISPs) from prioritising web access to certain sites and throttling data to others.

The first deadline for comments on the FCC’s plans is 17 July, and a smorgasbord of technology firms is protesting the proposals ahead of that date. Sites ranging from Facebook to Netflix are planning to use pop-ups, banners and purposefully slow loading times to show how the internet could act without net neutrality.

Being based in the UK, Alphr hasn’t seen a great deal of obstruction from websites, bar Reddit, which is showing a pixellated version of its logo and a number of pop-ups on specific hubs. /r/technology, for example, is plastered with a page saying the subreddit is “not included in your internet service package”.

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US versions of Spotify and Netflix are showing banners encouraging users to fight for net neutrality and linking to information on the subject. Game-streaming site Twitch has a similar banner, asking users to read the Internet Association’s GIF-heavy explainer about net neutrality.

Alongside those joining protests from Amazon, Twitter and Snapchat are the dating site OkCupid, holiday service TripAdvisor and adult-video site PornHub – which also happens to be one of the most popular sites in the world, outranking MSN, Bing and Tumblr.

The sites protesting today argue that scrapping net-neutrality laws could lead ISPs to prioritise companies they have business dealings with.

“Internet service providers could create special fast lanes for content providers willing to pay more,” Corey Price, vice president of PornHub, told the BBC. “That means slow streaming, which, especially in regards to online porn, is quite problematic as you can imagine.”

Digital rights advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is also joining the protests. Visitors to the group’s page will be faced with a message stating that the site is “Blocked”, and that users should upgrade to a “Premium Internet Bundle” to access blocked sites. The pop-up is a fake, but the EFF is encouraging sites to embed it as a widget to raise awareness of the “day of action”. Public figures are also showing support on Twitter, including UK personality Stephen Fry.

The end of the free internet?

The debate around net neutrality could lead to one of the internet’s biggest structural shifts since its conception. At the heart of the argument is the question of whether ISPs have a duty to maintain a free and equal playing field for internet sites, potentially at the detriment of investment.

The main argument against net neutrality is that companies such as Google and Facebook only exist because of the high-speed connections facilitated by ISPs like AT&T and Verizon in the US, and BT and Virgin Media in the UK. Therefore, those that create the network should have greater control in how it is run, and attempts at regulation inhibit investment in infrastructure.

Those rallying around net neutrality, however, argue that allowing ISPs to potentially block content or throttle download speeds to certain sites goes against the basic principles of the internet. They say it will lead to a digital state where those without partnerships with certain network providers will be discriminated against, and free speech will be stifled.

Regardless of how things play out in the short term with the FCC, expect these fundamental questions to remain. Between greater ISP control and increasing governmental censorship, there’s a feeling that the days of the free internet as we know it may be drawing to a close.

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