On Wednesday, millions of Americans visiting their favorite websites will encounter the same dreaded image: the spinning wheel of death. This is the symbol of the great "Internet Slowdown" -- a coordinated day of action among hundreds of organizers and some of the world's largest tech firms, including Netflix, Twitter, Etsy, Kickstarter, Mozilla, Foursquare, Reddit, and WordPress. Together they are showing the American public what most of the Internet would look like in a world without "net neutrality." In a word: slow.
These spinning wheels of death foreshadow a future that could be right around the corner. If the Federal Communications Commission adopts its proposed rules, Internet service providers like Comcast or Verizon will be allowed to provide "fast lanes" to websites and services that pay, and slow lanes to the rest. This means that it will be harder for Americans to access those sites that can't afford to pay fees -- including those of new businesses, nonprofits, educators, artists, activists, and faith groups. The result? Startup innovation, free expression, and democratic discourse in America will suffer.