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Internet Users Stop Comcast, Net Neutrality Win on the Horizon

by Timothy Karr

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin is taking action against Comcast for illegally violating Net Neutrality, after a coalition of Net users and activists caught the cable giant blocking open access to the Internet.

Martin told the Associated Press last night that Comcast had "arbitrarily" blocked Internet access and failed to disclose to consumers what it was doing. "We found that Comcast's actions in this instance violated our principles."

Topolski Ignites the Fire

The move is the agency's response to a complaint filed by Free Press and members of SavetheInternet.com, which called for severe action against Comcast for jamming people using popular "file-sharing" applications. But the story goes back further than that.

Organized People Beat Organized Money

Martin's action -- to be voted on by the full FCC in three weeks - would be a major milestone for the growing open Internet movement, marking another defeat of entrenched corporate interests in Washington and a stunning victory for ordinary people who want to control their Internet experience.

If adopted by the FCC, Martin's order could set an historic precedent for protecting the future of the open Internet. Against every ounce of conventional wisdom in Washington, everyday citizens and consumer advocates have taken on a major corporation and won a major victory.

The decision follows nearly a year of organizing and action by a growing alliance of bloggers, Internet innovators, consumer groups, organizations from across the political spectrum, and Net activists from all walks of life.

In that time, tens of thousands of people wrote the FCC in support of Net Neutrality after Free Press filed its complaint against Comcast and asked the agency to levy the largest fine in its history.

Comcast's "Shame"

Hundreds of others packed public hearings to speak out against would-be gatekeepers (even after Comcast notoriously attempted to keep them out by hiring drowsy seat warmers in Boston).

The Power of One

But it all started with one person. When barbershop quartet enthusiast Robb Topolski found Comcast was preventing him from sharing legal music files with other fans, he took to his computer and launched a one-man investigation.

Topolski uncovered conclusive evidence that Comcast was secretly blocking his uploads. His concerns echoed those of hundreds of other Comcast users, who had taken to the blogs and chat rooms to express their dismay.

He posted his findings on a single tech blog. This had a cascading effect, and soon dozens of others were writing about his findings. The Associated Press and the Electronic Frontier Foundation conducted their own investigations with similar results. The evidence was indisputable: Comcast was blocking the Internet.

The wheels of government started churning. This time for the better.

The Fight Continues

Martin's move is a major victory. But this fight is far from over. His order has yet to pass, though it seems likely. The cable companies -- and the phone companies, too, even though they're trying to distance themselves from Comcast -- will be back with their money, lawyers and phony grassroots groups to try to take control of the Internet and establish themselves as gatekeepers.

Companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to lobby Washington to gut Net Neutrality and hand over control of the Internet to them. But they so far have failed to overcome widespread and organized public opposition.

Today we can celebrate a huge victory for real people, but we need to continue this fight to send a clear signal to the next Congress and White House that standing with regular people for a free and open Internet is a winning proposition.

As the Campaign Director for Free Press and SavetheInternet.com, Karr oversees campaigns on public broadcasting and noncommercial media, fake news and propaganda, journalism in crisis, and the future of the Internet.

Copyright © 2008 HuffingtonPost.com, Inc.

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