When you go to any number of websites today, you may notice something different: a pop-up box asking consumers to pressure the Federal Communications Commission to keep its current net neutrality rules in place. The agency is now taking public comments on a proposed rollback of those rules, which govern the way internet service providers treat data flowing across the web to people’s homes. 

A long list of companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Netflix, have joined Consumer Reports and other groups in hosting the messages, for an event called the Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality.

“When you’re online, you expect to be able to visit the websites you choose and use the apps you choose,” says Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports. “The FCC put basic rules in place to ensure that your internet provider doesn’t block or slow down certain sites and apps while giving preferential treatment to others that ‘pay to play.’” 

Along with other organizations, Consumers Union is collecting comments on the issue, which are being forwarded to regulators. 

More on for Net Neutrality

The Day of Action messages are being coordinated by Fight for the Future, an internet-freedom advocacy group that helped lead a similar campaign in 2014 in the lead-up to the adoption of the net neutrality rules. “The goal of this day of action is to make sure that [the FCC] can’t ignore the voices of internet users and the general public,” says Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future. 

The details can get complicated, but what’s being debated is a pair of regulations. The first classifies ISPs as “Title II” carriers, which place them under the FCC’s oversight, and the second imposes the net neutrality rules.

A number of telecommunications companies, including Comcast, oppose the rules and FCC oversight but say they are committed to some of the principles of net neutrality. “Comcast supports strong, legally enforceable net neutrality protections that ensure a free and Open Internet for all of our customers. We do not and will not block, slow down, or discriminate against lawful content,” Comcast Chief Diversity Officer David Cohen wrote in May

FCC Rules Ban 'Paid Prioritization'

The current net neutrality rules were put in place by the FCC in 2015, mandating that all data—whether it’s a movie from Netflix, a YouTube video of a speech, or a video chat with your aunt—be treated equally as it is transmitted across the web and into people’s homes.

The rules prevent internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon from blocking or slowing down lawful online traffic in order to favor some companies’ content for business purposes. For instance, the rules ban “paid prioritization” deals that create fast internet lanes for companies that can pay for them. 

A new chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is attempting to overturn those rules, saying that they impose unnecessary regulatory burdens on broadband providers. “The internet was not broken” before the rules were imposed, Pai has said on a number of occasions.

In May the FCC voted to support a new proposal titled “Restoring Internet Freedom,” that would repeal the net neutrality rules and undo the Title II reclassification of broadband providers that gave the FCC jurisdiction over the providers.

Under FCC rules, that vote began a 90-day process of public comment, which was split into two periods. The initial commenting period closes July 17—this Monday. 

Typical web banner for Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality on July 12.
Messages such as this one will be visible on many websites July 12, which is being designated as a Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality.

What Happens Now?

According to Fight for the Future, more than 75,000 people, sites, and organizations have signed on to support and promote the Day of Action.

The organizations include Etsy, Kickstarter, Reddit, Vimeo, and nonprofits such as the ACLU and Public Knowledge. Most of the participants are featuring messages, banners, pop-ups or other alerts on their websites to highlight the issue. Websites will urge visitors to take action, hosting links that offer an easy way to contact the FCC or Congress. 

“On this Day of Action, we’re supporting the majority of Americans who believe the web belongs to individual users,” says Ashley Boyd, vice president of advocacy at Mozilla, the organization behind the Firefox browser. “We’re using the Day of Action to amplify what millions of Americans have been saying for years: Net neutrality is crucial to a free, open internet.” Mozilla says it has collected more than 42,000 comments, which will be shared with the FCC. 

When the initial commenting period closes July 17, the second commenting period begins, to give the public a chance to respond to the initial comments. 

So far more than 5.6 million comments have been filed, significantly more than the 4 million comments filed when the FCC was considering net neutrality in 2014. 

An FCC decision on whether to dismantle the rules could come by the end of the year.