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Internet Slowdown? What you need to know.

In two days, hundreds of websites are slowing down – by choice. In a sweeping protest known as the Internet Day of Action, or Internet Slowdown Day, hundreds of tech businesses and services are altering their services to protest proposed changes to the US laws governing net neutrality. Other, better sources have covered net neutrality extensively, but it’s an issue near and dear to our hearts, so today’s Main Street Creative blog will add its voice to the net neutrality protest. Today we’ll cover what net neutrality means, what changes have been proposed to net neutrality, why it impacts you, and how you can help keep the internet free and open.

WTF is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is one of those phrases that fails to excite. It’s a mundane, or worse, overly technical term that is easy to dismiss as someone else’s problem. Many of our clients come to us because they aren’t into tech – they want us to build their website, update their software, and keep things humming along so they don’t have to think about it. That’s fair – I don’t fix my own vehicle because it’s too much for me to learn and I’m not hugely interested in mechanics. The problem is that net neutrality does effect you – whoever you are, and whether you care about it or not.

So what is it? Net neutrality is a principle by which every website is treated equally by internet service providers. So, let’s say you use Telus for internet. Currently, Telus isn’t allowed to specifically speed up or slow down your access to any website. They don’t get a say in your choice of search engine or streaming website. If net neutrality is removed, they would be able to, for instance, slow down Netflix for their customers while speeding up Crackle or Amazon Prime Video or whichever other company they chose to partner with. Instead of acting like a standard utility – your gas or electricity services, for instance – internet service providers would become more like streaming services, each offering a different ‘suite’ of websites or services that run well on them, while all other sites would suffer.

You may be thinking that net neutrality will only affect the United States – after all, it’s a U.S. law that’s being changed. The problem is that so many of the internet’s biggest companies are based in the U.S. and will be subject to these amended laws. If the proposed changes go through, it will trigger a domino effect across the globe. Net neutrality will effectively die if the U.S. votes to kill it.

Is that such a bad thing?

This is a valid question. For many internet users, net neutrality may seem appealing. If you only use the internet to check your emails and watch Netflix and Youtube, and Shaw offers you a low-cost package that lets you do those things much faster than before, who cares if it’s at the expense of all the websites you don’t use? Unfortunately, a world without net neutrality has far-reaching implications for business and the economy, hindering innovation and discouraging entrepreneurship.

Let’s look at Netflix as one example. About 10 years ago, Netflix began focusing on streaming instead of physical DVD rentals. As consumers increasingly had access to reliable high-speed internet, they were able to pivot their business model toward video streaming. A few years later, they had become a tech giant, serving streaming video to over 75 million global users.

That’s a huge business success story, one that led the world into the streaming era. It’s also one that would struggle to happen again in a world without net neutrality. Once net neutrality is gone, there will be race for ISPs (internet service providers) to sign contracts with each of the big internet services, from Amazon to Netflix and beyond. Once ISPs can offer premium access to the existing tech giants at the expense of newer startups, tech innovation will starve. New ideas will be handicapped by inferior internet speeds and struggle to gain users and investment. Any ideas that do manage to grow in this toxic environment are likely to be bought out by the existing giants. Money, power, and influence will drain up to the biggest companies at the expense of small business and innovation.

So, what’s this internet slowdown?

Fortunately, there’s hope for net neutrality. All manner of online businesses big and small are rallying against net neutrality. Very few within the industry see net neutrality as a positive thing for business or innovation – or, at the very least, they acknowledge it will be bad for consumers and choose to align their beliefs with their users. Hundreds of these companies have rallied together to ‘Battle for the Internet’, engaging in a campaign that will see some the internet’s most popular websites visually slow down, adding loading screens and graphics to demonstrate how a post-net neutrality internet might look. This isn’t just a symbolic protest: many of these sites are asking their users to submit their thoughts on net neutrality to the FCC before their July 17th deadline for comment in hopes of swaying the U.S. government’s opinion on this matter.

 

Whether it will work remains to be seen. We’re in unprecedented times – this would be the largest change the internet has experienced since the advent of the modern search engine, and would certainly surpass even Google’s impact. In any case, the fight for net neutrality is far from over.