WASHINGTON — Popular websites including Netflix, Mozilla, reddit and Kickstarter launched a daylong online protest called Internet Slowdown Day on Wednesday to oppose the controversial proposed changes to net neutrality rules by the Federal Communications Commission.

The banners on participating websites featured an endlessly spinning “still loading” symbol, meant to warn visitors about the so-called “pay for play” Internet the new rules could create. This new web would be divided between those able to pay for a speedy pipe to consumers and those who can’t, protesters say.

Participating websites ranged from online crafts marketplace Etsy to inspirational news site Upworthy and adult content hubs.

The proposed new federal rules would allow companies to pay Internet service providers such as Verizon and AT&T a fee to move their online content through a fast lane.

The deep pockets of companies such as Google, Amazon and Skype would be able to guarantee smooth streaming for their users, putting startups and innovative companies that can’t compete at a disadvantage, net activists say.

While the participating websites didn’t actually slow down their service during Wednesday’s protest, they say the high visibility of their messages and social media campaigns might add another flood of feedback to the already record-breaking 1.2 million comments that crashed the FCC website in July.

Many net advocacy groups such as the Computer and Communications Industry Association called attention to the protest through pop-up messages when users entered their sites.

Internet advocates maintain that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposed rules, which could be finalized as early as this year, would eliminate the level playing field that would allow the next Twitter or YouTube to get off the ground.

Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade items that participated in Wednesday’s protest, said the new rules would make it difficult for its business to compete with more established brands.

“For the price of an Internet connection, anyone can spread new ideas or start a business –even spark a new industry,” the company said in a message on its site.

“There are currently no rules on the books to prevent ISPs from blocking or degrading the public’s access to content online,” FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said.

Social media campaigns promoting the slowdown on Wednesday reminded Internet users of a similar online protest in 2012 against the Stop Online Piracy Act, legislation that opponents said amounted to censorship.

During a daylong blackout, hundreds of popular sites, including Wikipedia, actually went dark and Google blacked out its logo.

Congress was forced to abandon the bill after legislators’ offices were inundated with calls in what Internet activists consider a victory for free speech on the web.


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