Why are the bad guys so much better at naming things? Especially legislation. Especially bad legislation.
No Child Left Behind. Healthy Forests. Clear Skies. The PATRIOT Act.
They have a special gift for coming up with monikers that are easy to remember and easy to get behind. Sure, they're deceptive, but they're also very effective.
The same can't be said for the utterly befuddling "Net Neutrality" -- the critically-important push to ensure that the Internet stays democratic and uncontrolled by the telecom giants that want to become its gatekeepers. (For those not fully up to speed on this vital issue -- and that's most everyone I've talked to -- check out savetheinternet.com, and posts by Rep. Ed Markey, Adam Green, Josh Silver, and Matt Stoller). Now, I understand that "Net Neutrality" is a technical term used to describe the separation of content and network operations, but what political genius decided to run with such a clunky name? The marketing mavens behind the Kerry '04 campaign?
When you first hear "Net Neutrality," what immediately pops into your head? A tennis match in Switzerland? Basketball players who don't choose sides? Tuna fishermen who don't have a position on being dolphin-safe? Absolutely nothing? Bingo!
And that's the problem.
Net Neutrality legislation should be a no-brainer. A slam-dunk consensus-machine supported by every American not drawing a paycheck from Verizon, Comcast, BellSouth, Time Warner, or AT&T (which leaves out Mike McCurry).
Run by the average voter the notion that Internet providers are going to be able to control which websites are available to them (and give the highest paying mega-sites better treatment than smaller ones), and he or she will tell you that it's a horrendous idea.
Who besides the telecom companies looking to cash in would be against keeping the Internet a level playing field? No one.
That's why groups as diverse as MoveOn.org and the Gun Owners of America -- as well as the editorial pages of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor -- are backing Net Neutrality legislation. As Gun Owners spokesman Craig Fields put it: "Whenever you see people on the far left and far right joining together about something Congress is about to do, it's been my experience that what Congress is about to do is basically un-American."
Yet, at the moment, the forces of corporate greed are winning the day in Congress -- Rep. Markey's Net Neutrality amendment was voted down in committee last week (although his provision garnered more support than expected).
So, what' the problem -- other than the millions the telecom and cable companies are putting into lobbying Capitol Hill?
I say it's the crummy name. It's marketing death. No wonder the issue has yet to capture the public imagination. Yes, 400,000 people have signed a petition demanding that Congress preserve Internet freedom (and thousands more have called Congress) -- but this legislation will have profound effects for the 71 million households that are expected to have access to broadband coverage in the next five years. Tell those folks about it and they will be pissed -- if they understand what is at stake.
Besides being blander than Tony Soprano's post-coma diet, Net Neutrality is confusing.
When I mentioned I was writing about Net Neutrality today, a very savvy friend of mine asked, "Which side are we on?" If you don't know which side you are on from the minute you hear about an issue, that issue is dead legislation walking. People should be able to have as instant and passionate a gut reaction to Net Neutrality as they did to the Dubai ports deal.
Net Neutrality needs to be rebranded. Its supporters have taken a crack by labeling it "the First Amendment of the Internet," which isn't bad but is still missing that special GOP message machine somethin'-somethin.'
How about: No Blogger Left Behind? The Internet Freedom Act? The Yes to GOD Act (aka Yes to Google on Demand)? The Fast, Downloadable Porn Protection Act?
Post your suggestions in the comments section. I'll send the best ones on to Rep. Markey.
And join over 400,000 others in supporting Internet freedom by signing this petition to Congress.
There is still time to build the kind of public outcry that will force Congress to do the right thing and save the Internet. But we have no time to lose.