Netflix to Join 'Internet Slowdown' Protest Over Net Neutrality

Your videos won't load slower, but the protest could add more pressure on the FCC to enact tough rules.

If you see a spinning loading icon when you try to watch Netflix videos Wednesday, there isn't a problem with your Internet connection. It's part of a protest calling for stronger net-neutrality regulations.

Videos won't actually load any slower. The symbolic icon is intended to be a warning of what the Internet would look like without net neutrality.

Dozens of other sites—including Reddit, Digg, Mozilla, Upworthy, Imgur, Etsy, and Foursquare—had already announced plans to display the loading icon as part of the "Internet Slowdown" protest. But the addition of Netflix, the 25th most popular site in the United States according to analytics site Alexa, provides a major boost to the effort.

Netflix spokeswoman Anne Marie Squeo confirmed that the site will display the spinning icon on its member and nonmember home pages on Wednesday. The icon won't go on any specific videos, she said.

"Consumers, not broadband gatekeepers, should pick the winners and losers on the Internet," she said in a statement. "Strong net neutrality rules are needed to stop Internet service providers from demanding extra fees or slowing delivery of content to consumers who already have paid for Internet access."

The Federal Communications Commission enacted net-neutrality regulations in 2010 to prevent broadband providers like Comcast from blocking websites or "unreasonably" discriminating against any Internet traffic. But a federal court struck down those rules earlier this year, and the agency is now trying to rewrite the regulations in a way that can survive future court challenges.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal for new rules has sparked a major backlash because it would allow providers to charge sites for special "fast lanes" as long as the agreements are "commercially reasonable."

Advocacy groups Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, Free Press, and Engine Advocacy organized Wednesday's protest.

David Segal, the executive director of Demand Progress, said he expects several more websites will decide to join the protest. Segal said the protest will be "massive," but he was reluctant to compare it to the 2012 uprising that forced Congress to abandon the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act, better known by its acronym SOPA.

In that protest, Wikipedia and other sites shut down entirely, and Google, the most popular site in the world, blacked out its logo.

"These [protests] all stand on their own right," Segal said. "It's like comparing every rally, every march to the biggest march in history."

Google and Facebook did not respond Monday on whether they plan to join this week's net-neutrality protest. Katherine Maher, a spokeswoman for the Wikimedia Foundation (which runs Wikipedia), said the site's volunteer editors make final decisions about Internet advocacy. "At this point, it doesn't look like the community will be participating in Wednesday's event," she said.

Net neutrality will be a tougher challenge for the activists than SOPA was. Two years ago, the goal was to derail legislation, but now the protest is intended to pressure the FCC to enact stronger rules.

"It's always harder to make something productive happen than to convince people not to do something," Segal acknowledged.

The protest is timed to flood the FCC with comments before the filing deadline of Sept. 15. More than 1 million people have already weighed in, with the vast majority calling for tougher regulations.

The protesters want the FCC to reclassify broadband providers as "telecommunications services" under the Communications Act. The legal tweak would give the agency authority to enact stronger net-neutrality rules, but would prompt a massive fight with industry groups and Republicans, who warn it would strangle economic growth.