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Net neutrality supporters say online rally is just the start of fight

| Wednesday, July 12, 2017, 6:15 p.m.
This image shows a banner on the Netflix website defending net neutrality, Wednesday, July 12, 2017. On Wednesday, Netflix joined other tech firms and internet activists in an online show of support for net neutrality, the principle that bars internet service providers from playing favorites with websites and apps.
This image shows a banner on the Netflix website defending net neutrality, Wednesday, July 12, 2017. On Wednesday, Netflix joined other tech firms and internet activists in an online show of support for net neutrality, the principle that bars internet service providers from playing favorites with websites and apps.

WASHINGTON — Some of the web's biggest names — Amazon, Google, Netflix and Twitter — joined thousands of smaller websites Wednesday in urging users to tell Washington to leave the internet the way it is.

On website banners, pop-up widgets, blog posts and videos, web companies said that could only be accomplished by keeping tough net neutrality rules for online traffic in place in the face of a push by Republicans and internet service providers to dismantle them.

Net neutrality supporters said the "day of action" was the first major salvo of what they promised would be a long battle involving the Federal Communications Commission, the courts and possible congressional legislation over the fate of the controversial rules.

"The Internet's less fun when your favorite sites load slowly, isn't it?" began a message that popped up Wednesday on discussion forum site Reddit's home page.

To highlight the fear that unleashed broadband providers could slow speeds for some content, the four-sentence message appeared one character at a time. It ended by urging people to "tell the FCC that you support the open Internet."

Ajit Pai, the Republican FCC chairman, wants to repeal the agency's Open Internet rules that were adopted when it was under Democratic control in 2015.

The FCC's tough regulatory framework, opposed by internet service providers, is designed to ensure the unfettered flow of content. The rules use utility-like oversight under Title 2 of the communications law to prohibit broadband companies from slowing speeds for video streams and other content, selling faster lanes for delivering data or otherwise discriminating against any legal online material.

"This is the beginning of an historic fight for the internet, and the people in our country are going to win against these broadband giants," Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., said during a rally with other Democratic lawmakers outside the U.S. Capitol.

Pai didn't publicly acknowledge the online rally. But in a letter to Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, on Tuesday, he said the FCC's information technology staff would be "on high alert" to make sure that the public comment system on the agency's website did not shut down.

The senators had written to him on Friday to make sure that the FCC was prepared for the thousands of comments expected to be generated by the online net neutrality rally. The site appeared to be working fine Wednesday although there was no count of how many new comments had been filed.

AT&T Inc., Charter Communications Inc. and other broadband providers also tried to get their message out Wednesday.

They said in ads and blog posts that they support an open internet. But they oppose the utility-like oversight adopted by the FCC because it is burdensome and gives the agency the power to control rates charged to consumers.

Internet service providers have said the oversight has led to reduced investment in expanded broadband networks. Net neutrality supporters dispute that.

"You can have strong and enforceable Open Internet protections without relying on rigid, innovation-killing utility regulation that was developed in the 1930s" when Title 2 was enacted, David L. Cohen, Comcast Corp's senior executive vice president, said in a blog post Wednesday.

"While some seem to want to create hysteria that the Internet as we know it will disappear if their preferred regulatory scheme isn't in place, that's just not reality," he said.

Some websites involved with the rally displayed widgets showing the "spinning wheel of death" to indicate that broadband providers could slow some content if the net neutrality rules are repealed. Twitter put an image of the wheel at the end of a net neutrality hashtag that it promoted under "trends."

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