The groundswell is building against Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler’s “fast lane” Internet proposal — but can it make a difference?
Latest evidence: Progressive organization MoveOn.org has submitted stories and comments from more than 10,000 of its members about how weakening net neutrality could affect their lives.
“I own a small business and have my own website,” wrote Michelle M. from Salt Lake City, Utah, on the organization’s “The Internet as we know it is in trouble” Web site. “I don’t want customers driven from my suddenly less-fast site.”
“Reduced access will yield exactly that — less access to information, less involvement with the outside world, less self-worth for me and so many others,” says Mark W. from Portland, Ore., who describes himself as a person with multiple sclerosis.
The stories and comments were delivered this week to the agency in advance of its May 15 hearing, when there will be consideration of Wheeler’s proposal to create a so-called fast lane, where some content providers can pay ISPs to get faster delivery. Opponents have also said this is likely to create second-class citizens of at least some of the other content providers.
The massive MoveOn petition/testimony comes on the heels of an anti-fast lane letter from many of the biggest Internet companies, including Google, Facebook, eBay, Microsoft, Twitter, and even Netflix. The streaming video service is frequently mentioned as a key beneficiary of a fast-lane model, even though it would have to pay ISPs for the increased throughput.
“Hundreds of thousands of people [outside of MoveOn] have signed petitions to the FCC and Congress,” MoveOn campaign director Victoria Kaplan pointed out to us. “Over a hundred organizations have submitted letters in opposition, and advocacy groups have been making thousands of phone calls to the FCC and President Obama.”
At least three of the FCC commissioners are having second thoughts about Wheeler’s proposal. But will all this pressure ultimately change the decision?
Brian Washburn, who covers Internet policy for industry research firm Current Analysis, has doubts that grassroots and company pressure will make a difference. But he is optimistic there is another solution.
“There can be a groundswell of opposition,” he told VentureBeat, “but in the end this kind of pressure tends to have mixed results.”
“But,” he pointed out, “the Internet was built to route around any problem.”
Washburn suggested that, if the Fast Lane proposal is approved, affected companies, organizations and individuals could re-organize themselves to, say, offer Net Neutral service, with no favorites and no downgrading of any content sources. There could also be a huge backlash against those Netflixes or Hulus who start occupying premium tiers.
After all, this isn’t the airline industry.