Net Neutrality, As Explained in GIFs

Yesterday almost every website I went to was displaying that wheel of internet purgatory.

And I mean, no thank you. I already lived through 1997 once, buddy.

And despite all the Beanie Babies and Jack Dawsons and heartening worldwide responses to the loss of Princess Diana (RIP), once was enough.

In 1997, we didn’t know the internet could be better than it was. But yesterday, websites like Netflix, Reddit, Etsy, Tumblr and many more were displaying the “wheel of death,” that horrible icon that you’d watch for minutes on end waiting for webpages to load back in the day. I can’t believe we used to sit through that. Jeez. Go out and play, Kid Molly. The Angelfire fanpage for Pacey and Joey will still be there tomorrow.

However, unlike in 1997, this time the wheel was there on purpose. The websites displaying it were trying to make a point about the importance of Net Neutrality (by socking it to internet users, who presumably don’t have much of a voting say in the matter, but whatever).


Good job, guys.

If you haven’t been keeping up on the Net Neutrality debate until yesterday’s whole shebang, we’re here to explain it – using the internet’s most important resource!

Okay, the internet’s OTHER most important resource:Ugh not that either, sickos. We’re talking about gifs.

Internet speed is largely in the hands of internet service providers (ISPs), mega-conglomerates who are probably full of just lovely people (I have to say that, because they’re in charge of how fast our site runs).

You may have a personal customer service vendetta with any one of these providers, such as AT&T or Comcast.

Under a proposed F.C.C. rule, ISPs would be able to compel companies like Google to pay extra to get “preferential treatment.” The result is that websites and companies that have the big bucks will run on the speedy, smooth internet superhighway we’ve all come to know and love. And the underdogs will be like:

In this scenario the obese cat is, say, Comcast, regular ‘net users are the folks stuck in the traffic jam, and mega-sites like Netflix are that one A-hole zipping through the lanes on a motorcycle. Or, more accurately, flying above all of this in a private jet, although to bypass the traffic they have to, you know, pay for that private jet.

You may also be familiar with the F.C.C.’s previous work, banning all of the good swears on broadcast television.

It sounds almost logical. Pay more, get more. But think about it: you don’t have to deal with your phone running slow. Or your television. They transmit at the same speed for everyone. That’s because they’re designated as a “telecommunications service.” The legal definition of telecommunications service sounds almost exactly like the way a fancy person would describe the internet:

“The term “telecommunications service” means the offering of telecommunications for a fee directly to the public, or to such classes of users as to be effectively available directly to the public, regardless of the facilities used” (47 U.S.C.A. § 1153).

These services are “common carriers.” Common carrier is a term of art referring to public utilities, telecommunications service providers, and – originally – transporters of people and things (hence the “carrier” part). Basically, anything that serves as the modern equivalent of a steam locomotive in the 1800s.

Hogwarts Express: common carrier (unless you’re a muggle?). The Weasley’s flying car: not a common carrier.

There are special legal obligations on common carriers, but the relevant one here is the duty not to discriminate. U.S. readers, you’ll remember this from Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Supreme Court case with the segregated train cars that we all learned about in high school. Okay, that one had a bad result.

Important: a common carrier can only discriminate with a “compelling reason,” like public safety, for example.

Ready? Now we get to talk about a U.S. Court of Appeals case! Hey, I need something to remind me that I’m a lawyer other than my crushing student loan debt and my closet full of business casual attire.

Under the F.C.C.’s Open Internet Order, issued in 2010, three principles were in place. The first was transparency: “Fixed and mobile broadband providers must disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics, and terms and conditions of their broadband services.”

The second was blocking: “Fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephone service.”
And finally, no unreasonable discrimination: “Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.”


Taken as a whole, these principles are often referred to as “net neutrality” or “internet openness.”

[Another three internet principles, not signed into law but still important: never give your name and address to someone you don’t know, don’t open links on weird-looking spam emails, and never forward a chain email with the threat of the recipient being haunted by a Teen Internet Ghost.]

Verizon v. F.C.C. strikes down the blocking and unreasonable discrimination provisions. Here’s how:

  • The Court held that the F.C.C. acted outside its scope of authority in the “unreasonable discrimination” rule, because the rule relegated I.S.P.s to de facto common carriers. Reminder: we’d really like for them to be common carriers. And the way for that to happen would be a (most likely statutory) reclassification as a “telecommunications service.” So, a new law. Easy-peasy.

  • As to the “no blocking” rule, the Open Internet Order only applied this to “fixed broadband,” not mobile – so, your home internet service was subject to the rule, but not your smartphone. The F.C.C. argued that this was necessary to preserve fair and open internet transmission. But if I.S.P.s are private providers, not common carriers, then that doesn’t matter. Again, if broadband internet was classified as a common carrier it could fall within the F.C.C.’s regulation powers.

The Effect

  • Without a “no blocking” rule, your I.S.P. could block content – say, Netflix or Hulu – in order to knock out the competition and force users to subscribe to their services. [“AT & T and Time Warner have acknowledged that online video aggregators such as Netflix and Hulu compete directly with their own “core video subscription service.” Verizon v. F.C.C., 740 F.3d 623, 645 (2014).]
  • An I.S.P. could also block internet content it disagrees with, like, for instance, blogs trying to get you to support Net Neutrality – or political candidates working against their interests, for example.
  • Slower or more expensive internet could be a serious barrier to entry for new businesses and enterprises.
  • They could also discriminate against different pay levels for traffic, not transmitting your Google search for “weird rash on stomach what to do” or “[Celebrity name] + feet” because you don’t subscribe to their best service.
  • And because there aren’t many I.S.P.s, you can’t just take your traffic elsewhere, because the big corporations will all be incentivized to behave the same way.
  • Not to mention, internet privacy could suffer as ISPs basically own you if you want to use the internet.
  • TL:DR: Your internet could get really slow:
  • And you could be seeing a lot more of this:Which I thought I left behind with these: