Would There Be a President Obama or a Tea Party or a MoveOn without Network Neutrality?
What do you want most for our future? More childcare, cleaner water, climate change, an MLK Memorial or a community playground? Do you hate the war in Afghanistan or Sarah Palin or the health care bill?
How much would we all know about any of these things -- or, thanks to BlogHer, about each other -- without the web? It's become our home, our quilting bee, our political club, comedy club, garden club, women's club, access to activism and knowledge and, well, life.
Big, and maybe dangerous, things may change here on the Web. And that matters not only because of our current online living habits, but also for everything that comes next. This week, a Federal Court has ruled, against the Federal Communications Commission, and companies like Comcast (which brought the suit) may slow down, or charge more for the loading of certain sites, (including high volume media sites like YouTube), and allow more speed for others who pay more at the front end, (presumably large companies and other institutions.)
In addition to the annoyance factor - waiting for lesser sites to load so there's more bandwidth for the Big Guys, having to pay premium rates to download etc - there are risks. One of the biggest is that sites for unpopular or minority-backed issues will "slow down" while entities like insurance or utility companies or major political parties buy the fast lane. Would those curious but not yet committed be willing to hang around while the "Dangers of Antibiotics in Hand Cleaners” or MoveOn sites inched along? In my era, it would have been those who opposed the Vietnam War whose message slowed to a crawl.
I'm particularly sensitive to this because in "my day", as an activist, we organized campuses against the war. That meant that teach-ins, (all-day learning sessions on the war held a campuses around the country), or marches had to be produced by telephone and snail mail and phone trees and regional meetings and "please join me at Nielsen Library at 8PM Sunday night to find out how to go to New Hampshire and campaign for Senator McCarthy's efforts in the Democratic Presidential Primary” fliers.
We were outclassed by the highly-resourced and powerful Democratic establishment that supported Lyndon Johnson and the war and had to spend endless hours cajoling, calling, walking dorm halls and dining rooms. When we organized student newspaper editors and class presidents to sign petitions against the war, it took weeks, because the draft had to be negotiated and distributed and renegotiated and re-distributed -- again by phone or mail. And even then, because "long distance" cost so much, we had to borrow flat-rate "WATS Lines" from sympathetic companies, colleges or non-profits and go to their locations to use them.
I've often thought what it would have meant to have the Internet back then. Groups from MoveOn to Tea Party to Motrin Moms have shown just how much more efficient political efforts can be online, and how the web has flattened the playing field. This new ruling threatens to change that.
I'm not the only one who believes this. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) wrote on ZD net three years ago:
The Internet has revolutionized the way Americans communicate with one another and do business. It's just common sense to keep that revolution where it belongs -- in the hands of ordinary individuals instead of a handful of big corporations. America's Internet freedom depends on it.
Liza Sabater, at Culture Kitchen, reminds us of what such power can do in the hands of any media giant, like Rupert Murdoch. On the site where I work, Jessica Pieklo looks at both the decision and the future. Contributing Editor Morra Aarons wrote about it here back in 2006! And Virginia deBolt and Laura Scott have each posted about it more than once. All were alarmed at the prospect of a class-divided web.
Remember how the Obama campaign and the Tea Party were built: on an equal Internet where all ideas could be put out for consideration without extra charges or longer load times. Our modern democracy thrives on this - and with such a hostile, malfunctioning establishment, we need it more than ever. It’s a cliché to say that if we don’t remember history we repeat it but if we don’t fight to keep the Internet’s speed and resources equally available to all, we are endangering not only the pleasures of online life but also access to the tools to protect all that we value most.