Anybody who visits reddit.com today, Wednesday, July 12, will be greeted with a pixelated experience, and a message that sums up what the internet will be like if the FCC goes through with removing net neutrality protections that keep all websites loading at the same speed.
“The internet’s less fun when your favorite sites load slowly, isn’t it?,” asks Steve Huffman, the reddit CEO who goes by the handle
u/spez on the website that sees 113 million visitors a month, and depending on the month, is either the seventh or tenth-most-visited place on the web.
Huffman continues in his message to redditors: “Whether you’re here for news, AMAs, or some good old-fashioned cats in business attire, the internet’s at its best when you — not internet service providers — decide what you see online.”
Perhaps best summing it up though, was this GIF that’s on the reddit homepage today, that with only a very few words, artfully shows what your internet experience will be like if net neutrality regulations are killed:
Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, Reddit’s co-founder (
u/kn0thing) are calling on redditors “to be the heroes we need,” directing them to Battle for the Net, an activism hub set up by Fight for the Future, a Boston-based non-profit that advocates for civil liberties online.
If you read between the lines of Ohanian’s 897-world reddit post, the message is pretty clear: Without net neutrality protections, the next reddit will never be born. In their view, the open internet is what incubated reddit’s community. When the internet isn’t open, when the power — in this case download speeds — is centralized to competing ISP’s, indie websites don’t stand a chance.
“Net neutrality gives new ideas, online businesses, and up-and-coming sites — like Reddit was twelve years ago — the opportunity to find an audience and grow on a level playing field,” Ohanian writes. “Saving net neutrality is crucial for the future of entrepreneurship in the digital age.”
It’s also easy to decode Ohanian’s comments about “massive incumbents,” in this case, telecommunications companies like Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink, Charter, Verizon, Cox, Frontier, and others.
“Our plan was to make something people wanted, because we knew if we accomplished that, we could win — even against massive incumbents,” Ohanian writes.
In many areas of the United States, there’s not much of a choice when it comes how to get the internet service that connects people to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and YouTube, leaving companies to determine which websites load in the fast lane and which do not. So if you have only one ISP to choose from that and ISP doesn’t have a deal with your favorite website, it’s going to load at infuriatingly glacial speeds.
One high-bandwidth subreddit, r/highqualitygifs, a board on the site that’s chock-full of just that, high-quality GIFs, went dark on Tuesday as an example:
Reddit is joined by some of the biggest websites on the Internet in the one-day protest. Among them, Amazon, Etsy, Twitter, and Netflix, along with support from Google and Facebook. Even AT&T is joining the protest, seemingly trying to play both sides, as Recode reported Tuesday.
As a populist question, killing net neutrality has proven to be deeply unpopular. While few welcome regulation that strangles innovation, from the point of view of people like Huffman and Ohanian, killing net neutrality would do just that: Any start-up website, like reddit a dozen years ago, would have trouble cracking into the mainstream if it wasn’t paying an ISP to get in the fast lane. Killing net neutrality could lead to a system where the biggest goal of any indie website would be to get acquired by an ISP and give up its independence.
Politically, the Republican party is in support of killing net neutrality, as an unregulated marketplace has long been a pillar of the party’s pro-business platform. But net neutrality poses a bit of a quandary for the GOP (even Breitbart had a hard time explaining it). On one hand, the GOP wants to create freedom for new businesses to grow, which net neutrality would ensure. But on the other hand, already-established, very big businesses — ISPs — want to keep their market share. For now, it seems that the GOP is siding with big businesses over small ones.