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If You Love the Internet, Fight for It

by Megan Tady

It's official; I've become a geek. I love the Internet, gush over it like it's a newborn baby. In conversations, I relate everything back to the Internet. "Oh, that's great about you, but back to the Internet." If I was eight-years-old, I would probably marry it. 

What's with my love affair with the Web (should I talk to my therapist about this)? 

I get a little chill when I think about the democratizing power of the Internet, how it allows us to bypass the corporate media for stories that truly reflect our interests and concerns, create and control our own content, connect with people around the world who we are taught to fear, organize for social change beyond the reach of pepper spray, build our own businesses beyond borders, and learn about anything (how to change my car oil; recipe for gluten-free pie; what happens when you put a laptop in the blender?). 

Of course, all the reasons above scare the crap out of corporations that are used to controlling everything we watch, read, and hear. They don't like this unbridled innovation or the fact that we're spending more and more time watching user-generated content instead of the formulaic sitcoms they plop in front of us. They don't like that we've traded online news for newspapers, in part, because the old guard wasn't giving us the news we need. And they certainly don't like that a singer can upload her songs to MySpace and build a following without corporate blessings. 

Our Internet service providers - companies like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner Cable - want that control back, or rather, to further entrench their control. They want to be able to block, throttle, discriminate against, slow down, and speed up content online - and make a killing doing it. And that's why they're doing their best to stifle Network Neutrality, the principle that prohibits ISPs from charging consumers and companies to make their content load faster than others. 

As the Federal Communications Commission considers how to create a national broadband plan to get high-speed Internet to all Americans, big phone and cable companies are spending tens of millions of dollars on more than 400 Washington lobbyists to crowd out the public's voice. 

But you have the chance to counterattack by telling the FCC you want an open Internet before the comment period on the national broadband plan closes next Tuesday, July 21. 

Creating my own show

My friends tell me I'm funny. And thanks to the Internet, I can branch out beyond entertaining at dinner parties. 

For the last year, another friend and I have been creating completely amateur comedy webisodes called "How Hard Could it Be?" and sharing them on YouTube. It's the most fun I've had since I convinced my younger sister to eat a sponge covered in chocolate icing on April Fool's Day. 

We don't have a lot of views, but that's not the point. The Internet has allowed us to make our own show. We don't have to rely on corporate gatekeepers to approve us. We have complete control over the content, when we make it, and how we distribute it. If we want to devote an entire show to panning for gold, we can (and we did). Our imaginations can run wild, and we're only accountable to each other and our fans. 

Because the Internet is an open platform, I can choose how to present myself in the videos I create. I can decide that female comedy doesn't have to mean showing cleavage, and I don't have to play into the same industry standards that don't represent women in a healthy way. It's incredibly empowering. 

But, this open platform, the one that allows all of use to make our own blogs, videos, podcasts, Web sites, etc., is under threat. If the ISPs have their way, they'll turn the Internet into an e-toll road, where you have to pay to get your content to load quickly. For those of us who can't afford it, our content, and the content we're looking for, will be relegated to the slow lane. 

I'd make a webisode about it, but it's really not funny. 

The evidence

The research team at Free Press, where I work while waiting for Saturday Night Live to call, poured over the comments that ISPs filed with the FCC about the national broadband plan. Their attempts to trash Net Neutrality and control the Web aren't hidden. They say it themselves, though you may have to read between the lines: 

Verizon and Verizon Wireless (pg. 100-101): The wireless marketplace also shows that many consumers prefer a more highly-managed network environment for their wireless devices. 

Translation: "A highly-managed network" means they have complete control over what you can do with YOUR phone. Is that what consumers want? 

AT&T (pg. 151): The government must be careful not to adopt legislation or policies (such as restrictions on deep packet inspection), that would hinder private-sector efforts to detect, protect against, and mitigate cybersecurity threats. 

Translation: Deep packet inspection allows ISPs to inspect what you do online. AT&T wants to ensure it can use this technology.  

Time Warner Cable (pg. 27): No additional action is necessary to promote network openness. The burgeoning broadband services marketplace will ensure that consumers continue to enjoy an open Internet. 

Translation: "We really enjoy our monopoly and don't want any competition. We intend to decide how open your Internet connection remains." 

The Internet I want

It comes down to this: we have an unprecedented opportunity to finally create a national broadband plan in the U.S. that will bridge our glaring digital divide, bring us up to speed with the rest of the world, boost our economy and allow us to keep innovating. 

The FCC must protect Internet users from corporate gatekeepers who seek to keep prices high and speeds slow, limit access to content and stifle innovation and market choice. 

That's not the Internet I want. I want an Internet that gives everyone an opportunity to create their own content, and go wherever they choose on the Web. 

What do you want?
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