US net neutrality advocates plan Hungary-style protests

The protesters are taking a cue from recent protests in Hungary against Internet taxes

Protests are planned outside the White House in Washington, D.C., and at several locations across the U.S. on Thursday evening to object to leaks that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is considering a new "hybrid" proposal to break through the deadlock over net neutrality rules.

Taking a cue from recent protests in Hungary against an Internet tax, the demonstrators plan to hold their mobile phones, laptops, tablets and flashlights above their heads as a symbol of protest to "shine light" on alleged corruption in the federal government.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was planning a partial reclassification of broadband as a regulated utility, while not explicitly prohibiting special access deals between broadband and content companies.

By the reclassification, back-end broadband services, through which broadband providers serve as a route for Web sites to distribute content, would be classified as a common carrier under Title II of the Communications Act and brought under the FCC's authority, according to the report. Retail services provided to consumers by Internet service providers would not come under the reclassification.

The FCC has said that Wheeler has not decided on a net neutrality plan and added that all broadband reclassification options are under consideration.

The protests are supported by groups such as Fight for the Future, PopularResistance.org and Free Press.

The net neutrality issue came to the forefront in January this year after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit largely overruled the earlier Open Internet Order which prohibited broadband providers from blocking or unreasonably discriminating against content providers or applications for network access.

Supporters of net neutrality have been demanding that broadband in its entirety should be reclassified under Title II and regulated. The reclassification could, however, invite lawsuits from broadband companies like Verizon, which warned the FCC recently that reclassification had "significant legal vulnerabilities."

In September, net neutrality groups and companies observed Internet Slowdown Day with thousands of websites participating by showing spinning-wheel icons to mimic slow-loading sites. The aim of the protest was to convey to visitors the Internet slow lanes activists claim will appear if the FCC doesn't pass strong net neutrality regulations.

The protests on Thursday will include demonstrations at San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza, Federal Plaza in Chicago and at the Philadelphia headquarters of cable company Comcast, according to PopularResistance.org. Supporters who can't make it to the event are asked to take a photo of themselves holding a sign that says #RealNetNeutrality or #ReclassifyTheInternet and upload the snap to the Tell the FCC - My Voice Matters! page, according to Free Press.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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