News & Politics

Cyclist Holds Up Traffic Outside FCC Headquarters to Protest End of Net Neutrality

FCC headquarters. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

Net neutrality can be a dense concept to explain. The theory that all internet traffic should be delivered to the user at a constant speed regardless of content, rather than allowing service providers to create different tiers for various sites is a bit of a snoozer, and doesn’t easily translate to a quick sound bite. But Rob Bliss, a producer for the digital-video website, recently came up with a way to bring the net-neutrality debate into the real world: by jamming car traffic outside the Federal Communications Commission, which recently repealed its own 2015 decision to prohibit internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon from allowing different types of content to be delivered at different speeds.

Over three days, Bliss set up a series of traffic cones outside the FCC’s headquarters near L’Enfant Plaza and biked very slowly in front of cars driving by. The only way to get around his roadblock, he told frustrated drivers, was to pay him $5. Otherwise, they were stuck rolling on fumes or honking and screaming loudly.

Inevitably, the FCC’s security guards—and eventually DC Police—tried to stop Bliss every day of his protest, usually by tossing his cones away or pushing him up to the sidewalk, as Bliss’s resulting video shows. And nobody actually paid him the $5 fee to get ahead of his leisurely pedaling, he told Bicycling magazine. But the point about net neutrality does come through. Bliss titled his protest “Restoring Automotive Freedom,” a sly reference a speech FCC Chairman Ajit Pai gave last November in which Pai said overturning the 2015 regulation would “restore internet freedom.” (Certainly, the FCC’s subsequent 3-2 vote along party lines may restore service providers’ freedom to, say, slow down content like Netflix in favor of in-house video platforms.)

Even if he was chased away from the FCC, Bliss still joins the ranks of more creative protests of the commission’s net-neutrality reversal, which appears to have irked even parties that aren’t directly pegged to the internet. Burger King released a video last month in which unwitting customers were charged more if they wanted their Whoppers delivered at the chain’s usual speedy pace. Whether Burger King wanted anything more than the attention that comes from jumping on a thorny political issue is unclear. But Bliss’s stunt makes the point even more directly that slow traffic affects—and infuriates—us all.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.