So, you've moved into a new house. Or, maybe you're anxious to watch the next game of your currently victorious MLB team. It might even be that your best friend loaned you the second season of True Blood on DVD and your recently acquired appetite for the undead cannot be satiated any other way. In any event, you find yourself dialing up your cable company to subscribe to a new channel package. It will cost you $30, $40... $100 per month, but it's been ages since your television had bunny ears, and HD flat-screens were not built for PBS programming.
With hundreds of channels to choose from there is an illusion that your television holds many possibilities. Yet, when you browse through the package options from AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner or Verizon, the nation's leading cable and Internet carriers, you realize that this infinite potential is still out of reach. Comcast's basic cable package starts at $57.99 per month. Adding premium movies, music, and sports would skyrocket a cable bill to well over $130 per month, an enormous cost placing serious limits on what programs the average American has access to.
Furthermore, who decides on all of this programming anyway? Ultimately, it's network executives, and the cable empires that broadcast their programming, that dictate what's on the tube every hour, of every day.
So, what if your Internet experience was identical? What if, instead of having access to the World Wide Web, you could only gain access to Comcast's closed cyberspace? Instead of being able to jump from updates at CNN.com to your cousin Arnold's political blog rants, you had to choose between one or the other? Or pay more to access both? Or CNN.com was the end all, be all, Arnold having been priced out of the Internet long ago? I hope you like cable because that is where the internet is headed. The carriers are seeking to be able to control what websites you can see. Sound crazy? It is. But the rules that keep the internet open are on the verge of being revoked. Without those rules of the internet road the carriers can do what ever they like.
They can block content. Block new innovative services and shakedown any site that wants to get through. If you think you will be happy with the internet content that AT&T picks for you then don't worry.
Otherwise, worry a lot.
When the carriers talk about deregulation they mean NO rules. No rule to make sure all content is treated equally, no rule to make sure you can start a new business the carriers prefer to own themselves. Would Google, Netflix or Amazon ever be allowed to exist if the carriers had control of your search, movie choices and shopping?
What has thus far saved us from this uncomfortable possible reality is a simple concept called net neutrality. Although it's been bandied around D.C. in the past months, for most American families "net neutrality" still suggests a technical jargon that has little impact on our daily lives spent sending and receiving email, taking online classes, checking Facebook profiles, and Googling the latest in airline ticket pricing. As you read this, more than 75% of your neighbors, co-workers, and yes, your children will log-on to the Internet in search of content, services and applications that they cannot access anywhere else. This fundamental change in how we locate information and interact with one another has altered the purpose of the Internet. What was once considered a privilege for those early adapters who were patient enough to dial up daily, has morphed into as much a necessity as telephone and electrical grids, national highways, and even clean water sources.
The principle of net neutrality maintains that those who own the pipelines that connect us all to the Internet cannot restrict the sites and content we download. Sure, there are still spam blockers, congestion controls, and legal repercussions for piracy. But under net neutrality, the nation's telecoms cannot reserve preferential bandwidth for those sites and services that make them the most money. In accordance with net neutrality, these companies do not charge Internet businesses for access to online customers, meaning that you and I can either order books from Amazon.com, or Joe-the-Plumber's-Discount-Paperback-Shack.biz. Net neutrality means that we get to make that decision, not our Internet service provider.
Unfortunately, this principle is under serious attack. Today, carriers AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon are actively lobbying policy makers to privatize the Internet and its content. This signals the beginning of the end to a nation of bloggers, application developers, and content creators. It means a radical increase in pricing for access to the Internet, with radically fewer services. What's worse, nearly 80% of the nation's 180 million Internet users don't even know that their online lives are being threatened. Without a groundswell of support for net neutrality in the coming months, these telecoms will stealthily unleash their special interest on Washington, silently transforming the Internet we use today.
There is a solution. First, Internet supporters, (that means you, HuffPost reader), must publicize what's at stake. This can be done powerfully through the stories of what makes the web worth saving, including the Internet businesses that have transformed local economies, or online educational resources that have given a boost to underfunded schools, among many more. Then, we have to create the opportunity for action, e.g. links to petitions out there. Only through a united front will the U.S. public counter the billions of dollars ISPs have at their disposal to banish net neutrality and privatize the Internet.
Net Neutrality For The Win: How Entertainment and the Science of Influence Can Save Your Internet, a communications guide released today by my non-profit research center the Harmony Institute, paints a clear picture of what there is to lose when net neutrality is discarded and ISPs control the Internet. The guide offers seven recommendations for speaking effectively about the issue and ways people can ensure that the Internet remains open for all users and businesses. The Institute takes talking points for net neutrality one step further by offering research-based techniques that create strong narratives and connecting intimately with the American public.
It is today that communicators from all fields, as well as the concerned public, must begin to invest in igniting a broader, more passionate conversation about net neutrality. It may seem easy to allow this concern to take a back seat when an unstable economy, violent conflict abroad, and an environmental catastrophe dominate our headlines. But once you realize that the open Internet, safeguarded by net neutrality, influences how we understand and interact with each of these concerns, it's clear that maintaining our right to an open Internet is a national priority. Download Net Neutrality For The Win today, and become part of the community of Americans who care deeply about preserving the open Internet for all!
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