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“Loading” Symbols Take Over Internet In Net Neutrality Protest

Advocates are using the universal symbol of a slow-moving Web page to drum up support for Net Neutrality

2 min read
Netflix Loading Page
Image: Netflix

If the Internet seems a little slower than usual today, it’s probably not. But it may look that way due to a protest from Net Neutrality advocates around the web. Sites like Netflix, WordPress, and Reddit will be displaying loading symbols on their front pages to show their support for equal treatment of all the data flowing through the Internet.

Taking a page from the It’s a Wonderful Life playbook, the protest aims to show their users what an Internet without Net Neutrality could look like by placing loading symbols on the pages of popular sites like Netflix, Upworthy, Vimeo, and Reddit. It’s not just tech companies that are getting in the mix, though. A wide variety of nonprofits, including Greenpeace, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union are also taking part in the protest.

While pages won’t actually load more slowly, the symbols are meant to serve as warnings of what the Internet could look like if Internet service providers are allowed to discriminate between different kinds of content. That discrimination, advocates say, could mean a whole lot of loading pages for Internet users.

Without a neutral network, advocates worry that ISPs could throttle delivery of some kinds of content. Throttling of sites could be used to drive online shoppers to sites that have paid the ISP for fast access, or ones they own outright. Others have expressed concern that a non-neutral Internet could make doing business cost-prohibitive for startups, keeping new ideas and entrepreneurs out of the market and stifling innovation. Nonprofits and educational institutions on tighter budgets could be left out in the cold—without the funds to pay for fast lane access, people trying to access these sites could be kept waiting as more bandwidth is devoted to paying customers like entertainment companies. 

Organizers hope to turn the attention they get from the loading pages into tweets, emails and phone calls to lawmakers and FCC officials from constituents, encouraging them to support Net Neutrality. “Since Comcast and the FCC continue to work on slipping paid prioritization through, we’re going to show the world what they’re really calling for,” said Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder of Fight for the Future, one of several organizations working to organize the protest.

The action is being organized by Battle For The Net, a team of technology and media advocacy organizations including Demand Progress, Free Press, Fight for the Future, and the startup advocacy group Engine.

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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