As of this morning, more than 1,500 blogs have taken up a new cause, posting links to SavetheInternet.com and urging their readers to call on members of Congress to stand firm in defense of Internet freedom.
And, for the first time in blogger history, the Hill is hearing it.
The cyberstorm is over “Net Neutrality,” the principle that prevents large telephone and cable companies from controlling what we do, where we go and what we watch online. As part of a vote on new telecommunications legislation on Wednesday, House Energy and Commerce Committee members defeated an amendment by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass) that would have protected net neutrality by a count of 34-22.
What's remarkable about this result is the shift that occurred on Capitol Hill in the week prior to the vote. An unlikely coalition of political activists from the right and left, consumers groups, bloggers and Internet gurus banded together at SavetheInternet.com and sent more than 250,000 letters to Congress. This sparked an Internet revolt among bloggers who heaped scorn upon any member of the House who dared side with companies like AT&T and Verizon, which are spending millions of dollars in Washington to dismantle any rules that would prevent them from controlling Internet content.
When it came time to vote on Markey's amendment, two Democrats on the committee switched their previous votes to favor net neutrality, and several others who were undecided voted for the amendment, citing the explosion in public interest on the issue.
More elected officials on both sides of the aisle, in both the House and the Senate are now monitoring the pulse of the blogosphere as this issue spreads offline.
"We would not have turned the corner in this fight without your blogs, your voices," Congressman Markey said yesterday during a teleconference with bloggers. "We need to put every members of Congress on record on where they stand on the future of the Internet," Markey said. That momentum has shifted in Congress, he continued, "is a reflection of the rumbling in cyberspace about what's going on with this bill."
Bloggers from left, right and center, including DailyKos, BuzzMachine, Atrios, Instapundit and even actress Alyssa Milano, called on their readers to pay very close attention to this issue. They’ve urged everybody to go after any elected representative who ignores the public interest in favor of the well-heeled telephone and cable lobbyists that have swarmed Capitol Hill as representatives attempt to rewrite telecommunications law.
Undaunted by the Committee defeat, Markey is now rallying colleagues on the left and the right to support the introduction of his Network Neutrality Amendment onto the full floor of the House next week.
But it's an uphill battle. For the amendment to be voted upon by all members, it has to first get passed the House's gatekeepers on the , which Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi calls, "the free world's outstanding bureaucratic abomination -- a tiny, airless closet deep in the labyrinth of the Capitol where some of the very meanest people on earth spend their days cleaning democracy like a fish."
This 13 member committee (nine Republicans and four Democrats) holds the congressional agenda in its grip. If Rules votes down your amendment, your amendment is DOA. Bloggers are banding together to ensure that no Member of Congress gets off the hook that easily.
"There's a white hot firestorm on the issue on Capitol Hill," Matt Stoller said in a post at MyDD. "No one wants to see the telcos make a radical change to the Internet and screw this medium up, except, well, the telcos."
Politicians get scared when they realize the public is paying attention. As the blogosphere catches fire, momentum is shifting in Washington. Whereas before, the big telephone companies and their coin-operated lobbyists were confident that Congress would simply roll over and do their bidding, today, no member of Congress can vote with the telecom cartel without suffering repercussions.
Thanks to bloggers, the public is now watching and, with increasing frequency and volume, the message is getting through to Congress: we will not stand for any law that threatens Internet freedom.
Timothy Karr is the campaign director of Free Press. Karr was the executive director of the MediaChannel and Media for Democracy. MediaCitizen is not affiliated with these organizations.
© 2006 Media Citizen