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Category: Politics, Media

Seven Days to Preserve the Internet

| January 7, 2010

FCC rules are about to be made that will either keep the Internet a forum for free exchange of ideas or else reward corporate entities that want to make money by controlling the flow. It’s time for the public to weigh in.

January 14, 2010, may not sound like an important date. By then, many holiday celebrations have come to a close, and it’s not officially time to honor Dr. Martin Luther King. But January 14 is actually an important step in the march for freedom and democracy on the Internet.

Between now and then, the public has a chance to take a stand for “Net Neutrality,” the Internet principle that protects consumer choice and equal opportunity online. But the voices of those who support consumer choice aren’t the only ones out there. Big Internet companies are also weighing in—against Net Neutrality. That’s why we need to speak out for a free and open Internet without corporate gatekeepers. So if January 14 isn’t specially marked on your calendar, it’s time to pencil it in.

A Net Neutrality rulemaking process is currently under way at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the agency that regulates our media system. Public comments received by January 14 will be considered by the agency as it drafts new rules to protect the open Internet, and women’s voices and opinions need to be heard.

I understand if “Net Neutrality rulemaking” makes your eyes glaze over; I know mine did when I first heard the term. But the more I learned about Net Neutrality, the more I realized how important it is to so many things I believe in: equality, democracy, activism, freedom of speech, feminism. Net Neutrality is essential to my work as an organizer at an online organization, and it even helps me keep in touch with my family. My three younger siblings don’t call me, but they do text, and they are on Facebook. While I’m sure my youngest brother has me on pretty restricted Facebook profile privileges, I can still keep in touch with him online. Without Net Neutrality, innovative social media like Facebook might not exist, and I might not be able to connect with my siblings as easily.

Net Neutrality doesn’t just affect my lofty ideals, my work and my family. Net Neutrality enables women’s groups to organize online and mobilize their constituencies effectively, and it is critical to ensuring that women will continue to have a voice online. Organizers I work with across the country can strategize, share information and build community using new media tools and social media networks. Passionate activists can speak out, sign petitions, contact their representatives and find useful information. And professional women use e-mail, Internet-based phone services and Web browsers to do business. Net Neutrality has revolutionized how we communicate by making tools for our empowerment available and putting us in control of our Internet experience.

But Internet companies like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner Cable want to get rid of the free and open platform guaranteed by Net Neutrality. They’d rather be Internet gatekeepers, profiting from the content that travels over the Web. Internet service providers have already started interfering with communications that they consider controversial and innovative applications that they view as unwanted competition.

As an organizer and a feminist, I am especially alarmed by the threat of censorship by Internet companies. In 2007, NARAL Pro-Choice America wanted to send a text message to its membership, but Verizon denied the request, preventing NARAL from communicating freely with its own members. Comcast was caught red-handed blocking customer access to BitTorrent, a legal file sharing application. And AT&T censored comments critical of former President George W. Bush during a Webstream of a Pearl Jam concert. This type of gatekeeping could become the norm without Net Neutrality, which is why we need to have rules protecting Net Neutrality in place at the FCC.

Right now, lobbyists, law firms, public interest advocates, activists and many others are sending in their Net Neutrality comments. Unfortunately, most of these comments have been submitted by groups that are bankrolled by the big phone and cable companies. In fact, the debate is so important to these companies that they spent $75 million in 2009 to deploy an army of nearly 500 lobbyists in Washington. These corporations are doing everything they can to eliminate Net Neutrality.

The good news is that the FCC’s rulemaking proceeding has brought us very close to making Net Neutrality the rule of the road. President Barack Obama, FCC Chairman Julius Genechowski and congressional leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all support Net Neutrality. But we need to build on this momentum and demonstrate broad public support for protecting the Internet as we know it. We need to show the phone and cable companies that money can’t buy everything. I, for one, will do whatever I can to preserve my freedom to connect with my family, sign petitions for my favorite advocacy organizations, and freely access news about my hometown—without corporate interference. If you feel the same way, then take action today. It’s critical that the FCC hear from me, you and other women who support Net Neutrality.

You can speak out for Net Neutrality at SavetheInternet.com’s quick and easy action page. Your voice will make a difference and will help ensure that the Internet as we know it remains a vital resource for education, advocacy, organizing, community building and our personal and professional lives. Join the movement for a free and democratic Internet. Show your support for Net Neutrality today.

Net Neutrality is part of a larger conversation about the future of the Internet. The ultimate goal is fast, affordable, open Internet access for everyone, everywhere. As the FCC has recognized, broadband—or high-speed Internet—is not equally available to everyone in the United States. Access is largely divided along geographic, class, race and gender lines. Free Press and many other organizations are trying to change that. In addition to preserving Net Neutrality, we want to connect the approximately 40 percent of our nation that does not currently have access to affordable, fast Internet. Sign up at Free Press to learn more and get involved.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.

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