When you click on a website on Wednesday, you might see a spinning wheel. It’s that familiar symbol signaling your Internet connection is sluggish, though it may not mean your webpage of choice is slow to load: More likely, you've stumbled onto an online protest designed to get people to support net neutrality.
Oh, yeah, net neutrality. What's that again?
That can be a frustrating question to answer, said Evan Greer, the campaign manager for Fight for the Future, the nonprofit organization behind today’s protest.
“Net neutrality activists have had the experience of trying to talk about the issue, and as soon as they start saying words like 'tiered systems,' people’s eyes glaze over,” Greer says.
Today’s action is in protest of a tiered system, which the Federal Communications Commission is considering implementing. That system would allow websites to pay more in order to receive faster access to your home. But what about websites that can’t pay? Netflix, Reddit and thousands of smaller websites claim the result will be the "spinning wheel of death" on their sites. Net neutrality advocates are pushing for a more level playing field that will keep a small number of internet providers from building — and setting prices for — those tiers.
Santa Clara University marketing professor Edward McQuarrie says if companies make users wait as part of this protest campaign, they risk turning them off.
“You’re going to get this delay and you’re going to say, 'Oh, crap. Is there a problem with my internet service again?'” he says.
And people will just click onto another site that’s not protesting. McQuarrie predicts the wheel of death won’t be understood as intended because, well, so few people understand what net neutrality is.
A visual guide to the net neutrality debate
Net neutrality is not a new issue; and if it were ever straightforward, the debate has been clouded by years of arguing between activist groups, internet service providers and tech companies, as well as a million public comments sent to the FCC, which has over time changed its approach to an open internet. We've collected a few of the best charts and tools from around the web to help make sense of the recent conversation surrounding net neutrality.
Wednesday's slowdown protest comes five days before the second round of comments are due to the FCC. (Disclosure: Marketplace's distributor, American Public Media, filed a comment in favor of net neutrality.) The deadline for the first round had to be extended because the crush of traffic crippled the FCC's servers. Here's a look at that response hour-by-hour:
Once that first round of comments was made public, many news organizations tried to make sense of it all. The Verge started by counting common phrases like "Comcast" and all variations the f-word, for example. But the very best visualization came from analysis firm Quid, which was commissioned by the Knight Foundation to cluster responses by their overall message and shared language. The resulting chart, originally published by NPR, is beautiful to look at.
But where are these comments coming from? The Verge published a tool that allows you to look up how many comments were submitted from your zip code, along with a ranking of the cities and neighborhoods that have filed the most comments with the FCC. The most came, unsurprisingly, from Washington, D.C. and the Bay Area.
Finally, Netflix is one of the highest-profile sites participating in the slowdown protest, and they've been one of the loudest voices in the net neutrality debate overall. The company says they were strong-armed into deals for faster service with internet service providers after their streams were choked, and they lost customers as a result. The company recently filed a lengthy statement to the FCC opposing a proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which includes a chart showing the spike in complaints about poor service last fall.