A ragtag army of bloggers and Internet activists have tripped up the phone and cable "Goliaths" using an arsenal of YouTube videos, MySpace sites, musical remixes, traditional grassroots tactics and innovative online organizing to make the case for Net Neutrality.
That's how Daniel Reilly portrayed SavetheInternet.com's efforts today in his lead feature at Salon.com. Reilly writes about ordinary people who have banded together to beat back corporate lobbyists and their allies in Congress. This broad grass- and net-roots mobilization has successfully stalled a piece of legislation that only nine months earlier was slated for quick passage on Capitol Hill.
"[T]he Net Neutrality issue surfaced from the Internet and murky halls of Congress into wider public awareness. An unlikely coalition of advocates ... motivated by what they see as threats to free speech, started taking the issue to their constituents with renewed passion. [Craig] Aaron of SavetheInternet.com says the strange coalition has definitely turned heads in Washington. 'For far too long, media policy has been big companies making decisions behind closed doors. Folks in D.C. got very used to making this sort of monumental decision without ever bothering to ask the public what they think about it.'"
At the beginning of the year most had predicted that the 2006 telecom bill was on the legislative fast track -- with Congress deep under the influence of the phone and cable hand outs.
According to OpenSecrets.org and Arlen Communications, these companies have spent more than $100 million on campaign contributions, Beltway TV and radio ads, congressional junkets and lobbyists this year. This spending spree is part of an effort to pressure elected officials to pass regulations that would gut Net Neutrality and place the financial interests of companies likes AT&T, Verizon and Comcast before those of the public.
Many elected officials were willing to reap the benefits of corporate influence peddling until a loose network of Web organizers, online innovators and grassroots activists brought the Internet sell off to light.
"Two very different models are now coming to head," Aaron told Reilly. "One is entrenched lobbyists in D.C. doing what they have always done, fighting it out inside the Beltway. On the other side is this new grass-roots movement, using new communications tools and finding new ways to organize. This is people using the Internet to save the Internet."
While we're pleased to receive praise for SavetheInternet.com's efforts, it's too early to declare victory for the grass roots and Internet freedom. Members of Congress this week returned home as the 2006 election cycle enters its home stretch. It's possible, though, that Senator Stevens will push his bad legislation through during the "lame duck" session that follows the November 7 vote.
And that's just the defensive issue. We must proactively pass net neutrality back into law, and we'll need to build an even bigger public interest-industry, right-left coalition in 2007. In the meantime, Americans need to stay on alert. It's time to let their elected representatives know that a vote against Net Neutrality and for Stevens' bad bill, is a vote against an open Internet and a healthy democracy.
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