Sunday, November 12, 2006

...and more hopeful news: on Net Neutrality

Mitchell Szczepanczyk at ZBlogs notes:

Earlier in 2006, I blogged about the efforts to stop the wretched rewrite of the Telecommunications Act, the main law in America involving the media and the internet, and its likely negative ramifications as to the future of the internet and current community access television.

I got involved in this, with the goal of stopping the bill from becoming law. This was a campaign which a number of seasoned activists told me was quixotic, hopeless, and an uphill battle against one of the most powerful, well-funded, and experienced lobbies in America: the telephone lobbies. Indeed, it looked hopeless early on.

But we kept working...

(go to site for more details)

Even though there's a slim chance that the bill could sneak through the Senate in the coming Lame Duck session of congress, commentators have remarked that we've essentailly won, at huge odds, and in a way completely unseen at the beginning of 2006.

Let that be a lesson, and a wellspring of inspiration. Democracy is more than what you do in a voting booth in a Tuesday in November; it's what you do with you hands and your heart and your head every day all year long.

And yes, Virginia, sometimes impossible dreams do come true.

Eat the State! elaborates:

A grassroots movement that barely existed five years ago is on the verge of triumphing over one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington.

The issue is net neutrality, the concept that, as with phone service, every Internet site is equally accessible to users. Net neutrality means that Joe's blog connects just as easily for users as

That's the Internet system hundreds of millions of people around the world (at least) have gotten used to. But here in the US, where many of the major Internet providers are based and the largest number of Internet users lives, the telecommunications lobby has spent some $200 million during this Congress to change all that.

What the telecom giants want instead is a tiered system, where they can charge large-scale users like Google, Yahoo, or fees in exchange for faster, more reliable access to their sites. would load much faster than Joe's blog, and for that reason alone will be far more appealing to users. And that site being run by striking AT&T workers? You might not be able to access that at all.

The stakes are enormous. Anyone producing independent media would be at a huge disadvantage under such a system. It's not just existing web sites and blogs that would be affected. The biggest stakes are still to come. Within five years, much of the audience for print, radio, and video (including TV) will be online. A decade, and it will all be the same technology, worth uncounted billions each year to whichever companies control the service...

...Though groups working to preserve net neutrality have been outspent by an unspeakable factor, they've had public opinion on their side. Lots of it. Millions of Internet users spread the word, signed petitions, and besieged Congress with e-mails, faxes, phone calls, and visits--so many that Congress got scared.

The upshot is that it looks like the Senate version of the communications bill this session (sponsored by Alaska's Ted Stevens, who already has had a rough time of it in recent months) is fatally stalled...

Defenders of free speech aren't out of the woods yet, of course. The telecommunications lobby will surely reload in January. Nonetheless, if Congress can't get its communications bill passed before January, it will have to start over--potentially with a Democratic majority in at least one house that is far more sympathetic to net neutrality. Don't rest yet, but at this point, the prospects for preserving net neutrality are pretty good.

If that happens, it's a grassroots victory of historic proportions... It also represents something new: the power of the Internet, with little help from other media, to organize and mobilize many millions of users on short notice on an arcane topic.

That demonstrates the capacity for Internet users to become a huge democratizing force in our corrupt political culture. It's a lot of power, there to be harnessed.

Let's keep using it.


No comments: