Culture

Thank you, Phish fans, for caring about net neutrality

As the battle to save the web gets underway, jam band aficionados are on the front lines.

Culture

FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT

Culture

Thank you, Phish fans, for caring about net neutrality

As the battle to save the web gets underway, jam band aficionados are on the front lines.

It’s easy to let your eyes glaze over when it comes to net neutrality. Despite its importance — it helps preserve a “free and open internet,” as the Obama administration was fond of saying — it’s a bit of an unsexy issue, and although John Oliver has tried his darndest, a lot people still don’t know much about the fight to save it. Well, except for Phish fans, that is.

If you venture over to Battle For the Net, which encourages internet users to call Congress to advocate for the preservation of net neutrality rules, you’ll find something peculiar: Several of the top sites that direct calls are Phish-related.

The top sites driving calls to the FCC

The top sites driving calls to the FCC

Macallan Rare Cask

As someone on Twitter pointed out, the traffic from phish.net — which describes itself as “a non-commercial project run by Phish fans and for Phish fans” — appears to be coming from the pop-up message that greets visitors to the site:

A pop-up message when you visit phish.net

A pop-up message when you visit phish.net

The same pop-up, which directs to www.battleforthenet.com, appears when you visit the site’s forums and setlist pages. So, it appears that Phish fans, while in the midst of discussing their favorite extended noodling sessions, are leading the charge to save us from our impending telecom-dominated hellscape. Thanks, guys!

While the pairing makes a certain amount of sense — it's hardly shocking that people who ingest enough drugs so as to not lose interest during those extended noodling sessions would bristle at the idea of government censorship — it was still vaguely unclear as to why so many fans were invested. As it happened, some fans themselves were also quite confused: A few users on the r/Phish subreddit wondered where all the numbers were coming from. “I am so confused by why we are at the top of that list! There aren't THAT many of us,” one wrote. “Is this not weird to anyone else?” another asked.

I asked a friend of mine, who also happens to be a Phish megafan, if he had any ideas. He posited that it had to do with the fact that so much of the band’s music is downloadable and easily streamed. (There’s even a mobile app!) The culture around Phish’s live music, he explained, is intense, and fans want those specific versions, rather than a boilerplate studio recording. If killing net neutrality results in an internet that’s rearranged into fast lanes and slow lanes, and internet customers are forced to choose which packages to buy, Phish music sites might get clobbered. A few people on the r/Phish subreddit agreed. (A message left with the group in charge of phish.net, who presumably allowed the popup ads to pepper the site, wasn’t returned. Messages left with a publicist for the band itself also weren’t returned, but I eagerly await the prospect of discussing weedy internet policies with the musicians.)

Of course, Phish fans aren’t the only ones concerned about the decision to finally kill net neutrality, which was announced earlier this week by FCC head Ajit Pai and his band of telecom-loving cronies. Other groups include Netflix, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and, uh, Magic the Gathering players, whose fansites feature the same popups as phish.net. It’s no wonder — despite Pai’s strenuous arguments to the contrary, killing net neutrality rules is a clear win for ISPs like Verizon and AT&T, who would be able to charge more for high-speed access, and a loss for consumers, who may well see their internet chopped up into a series of content-driven walled gardens.

For now, get something nice for the Phish fan in your life — perhaps a nice pint of Phish Food? — because apparently they, more than anybody, care enough to save you and your Netflix addiction.

Sophie Kleeman is a writer and editor covering technology. She lives in New York.