A Technical Issue Made People Think Comcast Had Brought on the Post-Net Neutrality Apocalypse

Many Comcast users were unable to access archive.org, which led people to sound the censorship sirens.

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Jun 2 2017, 3:32pm

Image: DennisM2/Flickr

There is currently no evidence that Comcast purposefully blocked access to archive.org for a few hours Thursday night and Friday morning. But the technical glitch gives us a peek into what a future without net neutrality could hold.

Dozens of Comcast residential internet subscribers posted on 4chan, Reddit, and Twitter Thursday night and early Friday morning that they were unable to access the website, which saves cached versions of websites, videos, pictures, and other web ephemera and emulates old software and games. These same users said they were able to access the site as normal via mobile connections or using virtual private networks (VPNs).

The Internet Archive and Comcast did not immediately respond to a request for more information, but Thursday, the Archive tweeted that it was rebooting some systems and said the site would be working intermittently. After the site came back up and was apparently back to normal, it said some users were unable to access the site.

"Some users reporting issues connecting-site is up, but some paths appear to be blocked. Working with service providers to diagnose and fix," the site tweeted. "Current issue with some not being able to connect isn't related to the earlier reboot. Site is up. Seems primarily to affect Comcast users."

All signs point to this being some sort of glitch and not a nefarious act—Comcast's Vice President of Tech Policy and Standards tweeted that "archive.org and Comcast engineers have been and are directly engaged to investigate and resolve."

That didn't stop Comcast users and net neutrality advocates from sounding the "censorship" alarm bells.

One of the major concerns of net neutrality activists is that without federal protection, internet service providers will be able to block or throttle individual websites at will and with no repercussions.

It's been said that the net neutrality debate is abstract, that people are unaware of what an internet without it would look like. This is it: Websites blocked, slow, or completely inaccessible. It's a grim look into our potential future to see what happens when millions of people are suddenly unable to access a site run by a nonprofit that's focused on conserving and spreading information.