The head of the Federal Communications Commission, former cable and wireless industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler, may have a battle on his hands over his proposal to create two standards of Internet service and end net neutrality. This is welcome news for anyone who believes in an open Internet.
Now is the time to ratchet up the pressure.
So what's happened since Wheeler first floated his plan to move toward a two-tiered Internet – where companies would pay Internet service providers for special "fast lanes" to get to you and me? Quite a bit.
The smaller Internet companies asked their users and customers to protest to Congress – but that's not enough. The large companies need to do what they did when they helped kill the odious Stop Online Piracy Act (which would have eliminated so-called "safe harbor" provisions and made every company legally responsible for any user's post). Back then, companies large and small demonstrated what might happen were the law to pass by going dark for a day.
Tech investor (and my friend) Brad Feld suggested on Wednesday that they do it again. In a blog post entitled "Dear Internet: Let's Demo the Slow Lane" he called on Internet companies to let the world see what Wheeler's proposal would actually mean:
Let the world see "Waiting for", "Connecting", and "Buffering" show up in their browser continuously throughout the day. Explain what is going on. Then click a button to bypass the Slow Lane and get normal connectivity.
Instead of everyone getting tangled up in the legal question of what "net neutrality" means, consumers can see what could happen if / when ISPs can decide which companies get to use their fast lanes by paying extra and who is relegated to the slow lane.
The big companies need to launch their lobbyists and political action committees into the fray as well. They need to push hard for measures from Congress that would create genuine competition again among Internet service providers.
If they don't, we'll know where the Googles, Facebooks, Amazons and such actually stand – waiting to see if they can profit more by collaborating with the telecom companies' ongoing shakedown of middlemen and content providers (above and beyond their already overpriced "consumer" service).
Meanwhile, it's up to the rest of us to tell Washington – starting with our own letters to the FCC and your representatives – that we need an open Internet, not the cable-TV-on-steroids system that the Comcasts, Verizons, AT&Ts and other oligopoly carriers have planned for us.