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High Noon for Internet Freedom

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As democracy movements worldwide struggle to speak out via the Internet, many here in the U.S. may have overlooked an effort in Congress to undermine this basic freedom.

It takes the form of an arcane "resolution of disapproval" now wending its way through the Senate. If it passes, the resolution would void a recent Federal Communications Commission rule that seeks to preserve long-held Internet standards that protect users against blocking and censorship.

The resolution would remove these protections. It was put forth by industry-funded members of Congress who don't mind letting the few corporations who sell Internet access in America decide what we get to see, hear and read on the Internet.

These senators are also hoping the resolution will appease the most paranoid among the Tea Party faithful, who equate any consumer safeguard put in place during the Obama era with myriad and shadowy government plots.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who pushed a similar measure through the House earlier this year, stoked these fears when she said, "the FCC is in essence building an Internet Iron Curtain that will restrict more of our freedom."

Blackburn's rhetoric puts her and other supporters of the resolution far outside of the mainstream of Americans, who believe that neither the government nor corporations should be able to censor lawful content online.

If Congress succeeds in passing this measure, it will go well beyond deciding whether the FCC's recent rules are appropriate. The resolution will prohibit the agency from engaging in any effort to protect Internet freedom. The move opens the path for corporations eager to take a wrecking ball to the open architecture that has made the Internet a great equalizer for all users.

Lobbyists and lawyers working for the likes of AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have argued that these companies need to take control of your clicks in order to more efficiently--and profitably--manage the abundance of user-driven innovations online. They promise to be good stewards of this unruly medium if only regulators would take away the one network protection that ensures everyone's right to connect with everyone else on the Internet.

That's not what the Internet's founders intended. They built the network to be free of gatekeepers, giving each user equal access to all the legal content and applications online.

These engineers couldn't have envisioned that this open design would, in a relatively short time, evolve to make the network a potent political tool for freedom movements and democratic organizing worldwide.

But it has. Think of the explosion of Internet organizing and political expression that has swept the world in 2011, from Tunisia to Tehran to Beijing, and is now being embraced in America by protesters determined to Occupy Wall Street.

Americans cherish freedom of speech as much as people across North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. An open Internet allows all sides of contentious issues to be heard by anyone who chooses to listen. It opens up a global pipeline for protest movements, a window for millions to witness injustices and a platform upon which to organize for a better future.

So ask yourself this. Do you want Congress to surrender your right to choose online to a company whose sole motive is to generate as much profit as possible? Do you want to wipe away the only protection that prevents any entity--be it corporate or government--from blocking our right to connect with one another?

The hardliners in Congress who support this resolution have joined in a pact with powerful Internet providers and free-market extremists to kill off your most fundamental online right.

It's now up to us users to use the open Internet to reclaim it.

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