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Net Neutrality -- Protecting Your Voice, and Mine

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I believe deeply in freedom of speech, and the free exchange of ideas in our society. When we take a quick scan of America's history, it is those fundamental principals that made it possible for everyone from "the founding fathers," to anti-slavery activists, to women, to the muckrakers, to labor organizers, to Civil Rights activists, to the LGBT community, to Chicano farm workers, and every other kind of movement, moment, or march we can cite, to exist. And to win.

I think about this a great deal as I am currently campaigning for Congress here in Brooklyn, New York. No, nothing will ever beat going door-to-door, meeting people on the streets, at transportation stops, at various places of business. But I cannot tell you how many people we've touched -- with job postings, with useful tips about voter registration, with tidbits about
a timely news item or community concern -- because of the internet.

For the internet is the great equalizer in our American democracy. And that is why "Net Neutrality" must be preserved, for the sake of all Americans.

To put it simply, Net Neutrality is a principle, until now, that has governed the internet and made all of us equals, as it should be in every arena of our country. That means all those bloggers you and I know, who pen article after article every single week, from their dorm rooms or their living rooms, on their Blackberry or their iPhone, are just as important as, say, a blogger for CNN or Fox News Channel. And just as accessible.

Because of Net Neutrality, millions of Americans who never previously had a voice now have one. Writers who could not get published now have huge audiences. Musical artists shunned by major record labels have created whole careers because of the internet. Filmmakers who otherwise could not get their movies or documentaries to the public now have a means to do so -- freely.

And even President Barack Obama owes a huge debt to Net Neutrality, because it was the use of the internet in 2008, by millions and millions of Americans, especially younger folks, who generated all those donations, created all that hype and buzz, and propelled him to the White House.

So in trying to wrap my head around Net Neutrality, I always come back to one question: What if those who decide what is worthy and what is not on the internet decide, for any reason, that my voice should be relegated to the secondary internet proposed by Verizon and Google?

Please understand that's what this debate really comes down to in the end. Verizon and Google can argue that some of what we do on the net slows down the net more than other things, and that those things that don't slow it down should be given preference. And a slow Internet connection is annoying, especially when you want to watch your favorite show, read your favorite columnist, or download a song.

This past week, in fact, the telecom and internet giants proposed a series of regulations to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hoping to create a two-tiered internet system on the internet, and also hoping the FCC decides to stay out of regulating wireless altogether. Basically, they want to dictate to the FCC what they, Verizon and Google, think is best.

But that's really the problem. I don't want any corporation (even one claiming it has my best interests at heart) to decide what is best on the internet. No, not my wireless company. I want the American people and, if required, our government, to regulate the internet. And that's all. I want a government that keeps illegal content from the internet. I want a people free to choose whether they want to read Gail Collins or watch a video of a pug who somehow barks the Batman theme (Have you seen this? It's uncanny.) Us. We decide.

Just as many Americans rail against, say, the restrictions China has placed on its citizens, where the Chinese people are not able to send out or surf the internet for perspectives other than what their government gives them, we should have the same amount of passion and resolve to not allow this to happen in America. Ending Net Neutrality is certain to take us in that direction.

And as an African American, I am particularly disturbed and saddened by the numerous civil rights organizations and Black political leaders who are in opposition to Net Neutrality. How quickly we have forgotten (or have simply ignored) our own history of being denied opportunities to speak freely, to have spaces to spread information for, about, and on behalf of our communities. But when lobbyist money talks and is coming from certain telecom companies, strange bedfellows become the reality, even if it means selling out your constituents in the process.

That is precisely why I am running for Congress at this time. For only by leveraging the power of the internet can an insurgent Congressional campaign like mine hope to unseat an incumbent financially fed by the establishment. The Internet has opened new doors to new ideas, launched campaigns like mine, connected people with others whom they never would have met. And the internet and Net Neutrality are why you are reading this essay, for free, this very moment, and with great ease.

And, until now, we have decided what we want. We the people have been the directors of the internet. And it must remain free from any corporation's influence, even if it would allow me to more quickly stream Drake, The Beatles, or Abbey Lincoln--whose magical jazz voice we sadly lost this weekend.

So we must protect all the voices on the internet: yours, mine, even my
opponent's. And especially Abbey Lincoln's.

For it is our Internet. Let us keep it that way.

Kevin Powell is a 2010 Democratic candidate for the United States House of Representatives in Brooklyn, New York's 10th Congressional district.
You can reach him at www.kevinpowell.net

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