As It Happens

This cyclist slowed traffic to a halt outside the FCC to protest net neutrality repeal

"The idea was perhaps people would understand the issue better if they could see it acted out in the real world," said net neutrality advocate Rob Bliss.
Rob Bliss rides his bike slowly through traffic outside the FFC building in Washington to protest the U.S. repeal of net neutrality laws. (Robb Bliss/YouTube)

Story transcript

Rob Bliss drew the ire of drivers and police officers in Washington last week when he held up traffic in front of the Federal Communications Commission building to protest the U.S. repeal of net neutrality laws.

Bliss, a video producer for the website, set out pylons to block every lane on the street except one — which he brought to a grinding halt by riding his bicycle extremely slowly. 

On his back was a sign offering drivers access to a faster "priority" lane for $5 US a month.

"Net neutrality is kind of like a difficult concept to understand because it's all online. It's not really something you can hold in your hand," Bliss told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

"So the idea was perhaps people would understand the issue better if they could see it acted out in the real world."

What is net neutrality?

In December, the FCC voted to roll back a landmark 2015 order that barred internet service providers from blocking or slowing down consumer access to web content — a principle known as net neutrality.

FCC chair Ajit Pai championed the rollback, arguing that doing away with regulation will lead to lower prices and better choices for consumers.

But net neutrality proponents chided the move, noting that companies can now throttle data for certain services, or charge more to access it at full speed.

"We are giving broadband providers the green light to carve the internet into slow and fast lanes, to choose which voices to feature and to choose what content you can reach when you go online every day," dissenting FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told As It Happens in November.

Bliss wore a sign offering to sell drivers a 'priority access membership' for $5 a month to access the fast lane. (Rob Bliss/YouTube)

Bliss decided to bring that analogy to life in Washington, taking on the role of an internet service provider throttling traffic in order to make a buck — all in the name of "automotive freedom."

But not everyone thought the stunt was clever.

The video shows angry drivers honking and screaming at Bliss as he pedals his bike so slowly he can barely keep from falling over.

"No one gave me five bucks," Bliss said. "I can't believe it. I thought it was a great business deal. I guess it wasn't."

Clashes with police

The protest also drew plenty of police officers to the scene, who appeared alternately angry, baffled and bemused by Bliss's antics. 

"The whole time I was trying to go about his project with a really serious face on. You know, I was playing the role of the internet service provider," he said. 

Police officers did not approve of Bliss's hijinks. (Robb Bliss/YouTube)

At one point, an officer asks him: "Sir, do you intend to continue disrupting traffic?" 

Bliss straightforwardly responds: "The thing is ... if I let everyone go at a normal speed, no one would buy my passes."

The officer starts to reply, finds himself at a loss for words, then laughs. 

"I don't think they could quite figure me out," Bliss said. "And so I think I was winning people over — or just befuddling these people."

Bliss eventually complies with the officers, who let him go free of charge.

"You kind of see the ridiculousness of it," Bliss said.

"Everyone should be able to have equal access to wherever they're headed, whether on the street or online."

— With files from CBC News


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