Some of the Web's biggest names — Amazon, Google, Netflix and Twitter — joined thousands of smaller websites Wednesday in urging users to tell Washington to leave the Internet the way it is.
On website banners, pop-up widgets, blog posts and videos, Web companies said that could only be accomplished by keeping tough net neutrality rules for online traffic in place in the face of a push by Republicans and Internet service providers to dismantle them.
Net neutrality supporters said the "day of action" was the first major salvo of what they promised would be a long battle involving the Federal Communications Commission, the courts and possible congressional legislation over the fate of the controversial rules.
"The Internet's less fun when your favorite sites load slowly, isn't it?" began a message that popped up on discussion forum site Reddit's home page on Wednesday.
To highlight the fear that unleashed broadband providers could slow speeds for some content, the four-sentence message appeared one character at a time. It ended by urging people to "tell the FCC that you support the open Internet."
Ajit Pai, the Republican FCC chairman, wants to repeal the agency's Open Internet rules that were adopted when it was under Democratic control in 2015.
The FCC's tough regulatory framework, opposed by Internet service providers, is designed to ensure the unfettered flow of content. The rules use utility-like oversight under Title 2 of the communications law to prohibit broadband companies from slowing speeds for video streams and other content, selling faster lanes for delivering data or otherwise discriminating against any legal online material.
"This is the beginning of an historic fight for the Internet, and the people in our country are going to win against these broadband giants," Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said during a rally with other Democratic lawmakers outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Pai didn't publicly acknowledge the online rally. But in a letter to Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) on Tuesday, he said the FCC's information technology staff would be "on high alert" to make sure that the public comment system on the agency's website did not shut down.
The senators had written to him on Friday to make sure that the FCC was prepared for the thousands of comments expected to be generated by the online net neutrality rally. The site appeared to be working fine Wednesday although there was no count of how many new comments had been filed.
AT&T Inc., Charter Communications Inc. and other broadband providers also tried to get their message out Wednesday.
They said in ads and blog posts that they support an open Internet. But they oppose the utility-like oversight adopted by the FCC because it is burdensome and gives the agency the power to control rates charged to consumers.
Internet service providers have said the oversight has led to reduced investment in expanded broadband networks. Net neutrality supporters dispute that.
"You can have strong and enforceable Open Internet protections without relying on rigid, innovation-killing utility regulation that was developed in the 1930s" when Title 2 was enacted, David L. Cohen, Comcast Corp's senior executive vice president, said in a blog post Wednesday.
"While some seem to want to create hysteria that the Internet as we know it will disappear if their preferred regulatory scheme isn't in place, that's just not reality," he said.
Some websites involved with the rally displayed widgets showing the "spinning wheel of death" to indicate that broadband providers could slow some content if the net neutrality rules are repealed. Twitter put an image of the wheel at the end of a net neutrality hashtag that it promoted under "trends."
"Without net neutrality, Internet service providers could create special fast lanes for content providers willing to pay more. That means slow streaming, slow social networking and, yes, slow porn," said women identified as porn stars in one of two net neutrality videos at the top of the Funny or Die comedy site. "And no one ever yells 'Slower! Slower!'"
Other websites were more subtle. Netflix put a net neutrality support banner at the top of its home page. Amazon's home page had a box near the top that simply said "Net Neutrality? Learn more" and linked to additional information.
Google's home page had no net neutrality message. But the search engine expressed its support in a post on its public policy blog and an email to people who signed up to stay informed about Internet issues.
Some broadband providers, including AT&T, have urged Congress to pass bipartisan legislation with net neutrality protections so the rules won't be subject to change each time the FCC's majority switches parties.
"Every time we have an election, were' going to have a reconstitution of the net neutrality fight just like we're having today," said Bob Quinn, AT&T's senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs.
Legislation would allow for the rules to be enforced by the FCC without using the Title 2 oversight that opens the door to rate regulation in the future.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said he proposed such legislation in 2015 and urged its passage.
"On this day of action, let's not settle for slogans and instead demand a resolution that finds agreement and concludes the debate," Thune wrote Wednesday in an article on Recode.
Wyden said that he was open to net neutrality legislation as long as it included all the existing FCC rules and strong enforcement mechanisms to ensure that broadband providers comply.
"I have not seen any evidence that Senate Republicans want something with real teeth that's really enforceable and is going to provide the muscle to make sure you can't game net neutrality," he said.