Thursday, November 11, 2010

Net Neutrality: 50th Media Justice Post

Cross posted from my Media Justice Column

Since April I’ve wanted to write this article. While on a panel at the CLPP Conference on Media Radicals, there was an interesting conversation about Net Neutrality. During that time I realized three things about this topic 1. I did not know anything about it or why I should, 2. There were few young people involved in the education and movement around Net Neutrality and 3. The language of the conversation was not as accessible as I thought it could be for different communities such as youth, people whose first language is not English, older adults, and people without regular access to the Internet.

With those three things in mind I took some time out to investigate what goes into this topic of Net Neutrality, why there was a disconnect, and what we at Amplify can do to help spread the word. The Detroit Digital Justice Coalition’s zine really helped me and I encourage you all to read them as well as they had a great glossary of technology terms and tips for all sorts of technology questions! I’d like to think this article could be an accessible piece of information that can reach different people, but I also recognize that I write a lot and this post is no different. My hope is that this may lead to some more activism by many of us who write and read at Amplify because we care about the work we do and the information we can access.

I also want to put a disclaimer on this 50th post for this column (!): There’s a huge learning curve here for me, and part of that learning curve is that we are talking about airwaves and I don’t understand completely how an airwave, something we can’t see or touch, can be regulated and restricted. But I know this happens and hopefully some of you readers can also help build on this conversation and teach me something and we can build new knowledge together! Oh, and if you didn’t notice by now, or didn’t guess from the title of this column, I support Net Neutrality!

What Is It

Net Neutrality is basically a free and open Internet and views communication as a human right. It is anti-censorship and pro-equality for all Internet and websites. It’s about choice. A Columbia Law Professor named Tim Wu created the term. As many of you know, our First Amendment right is freedom of speech and using and accessing the Internet falls under that Amendment. Having an open Internet allows anyone from any computer (except for certain areas such as public schools and libraries) to access any information they choose to or to provide and share information of their choice (think blogs). Here’s a video created by theSave The Internet campaign:

Why Is This An Issue

A bit of history: In short, Comcast did some ish that led to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) sanctioning them in 2008 because Comcast had unfairly slowed traffic to the website BitTorrent, a file-sharing website. Reporter Cecilia Kang at the Washington Post

“The FCC's predicament stems from a 2008 sanction against Comcast for violating the agency's open Internet guidelines, which were meant to force broadband providers to treat all network traffic equally, so as not to put any Web site at a disadvantage. In a 3 to 2 vote, the FCC found that Comcast had improperly slowed traffic to the BitTorrent file-sharing site and urged the company to halt the practice. It did not impose a fine. Comcast appealed the FCC sanction, saying that the agency's order was outside the scope of its authority. The court agreed on Tuesday, saying the agency relied on laws that give it some jurisdiction over broadband services but not enough to make the action against Comcast permissible.”
President Obama is interested in making high-speed Internet (not just dial-up) available nationwide, so when the US Court of Appeals in DC ruled in favor of Comcast in April of this year, many activists, who had already started to make moves on this topic, put this issue as a top priority for communities and Congress.

New York Times reporter Edward Wyatt
states that Net Neutrality is when “no form of content is favored over another. In its [Net Neutrality’s] place, consumers could soon see a new tiered system, which like cable television, imposes higher costs for premium levels of service.

Why You Need To Care

If we don’t care about Net Neutrality we don’t value producing and accessing knowledge. Net Neutrality, in many ways can be seen an issue of the “elite” or of the
“privileged” and I do not argue against this. It is a privilege to have access to a computer, a space where you can use it, to have electricity, and the ability to care for the equipment, as well as use the equipment correctly.

At the same time we can use our privilege to ensure that this is a privilege that can one day expand to all people, or that can one day be available to help anyone who needs it around the world. Stephanie C. Webster wrote in her article
“After committing to ‘Net Neutrality’, Rep. Waxman pushes bill to kill it” that Net Neutrality proponents argue “that bloggers or whistle-blowers publishing content the network providers object to could simply be deprioritized, leaving their material in a gray zone devoid of traffic, which many Internet users cannot easily access.” When I read this article I immediately thought about howWikileaks has been used. My homegirl Barbara shared with me “wiki leaks has been an invaluable resource for journalists - it's a place where whistleblowers can put information or documents that would usually be too sensitive for people to give to journalists ‘on the record’.” Other communal sharing spaces, like blogs, Wikipedia, and other such spaces are also going to be limited. Be critical in consuming what this Verizon ad tells you! This is when y/our media literacy skills become invaluable!

What Are Some Challenges

There are some folks who argue that Net Neutrality is not the main issue for them and their communities. For folks who can’t even access the Internet, their main concern is simply getting the Internet in the first place! This is for sure a class issue. This is an area that is a challenge for me, because I realize that many working class and working poor people, of which I am, don’t have access to Net Neutrality even now, or even access to the Internet. So why push Net Neutrality agendas forward if this is the community we are from?

I think of myself and the community I am a part of. I’ve got no problem saying I’m working class, that there are times when I (still) find myself living below the poverty line (yes even college professors don’t make a lot of money) to get the work I’m dedicated to do (there is not lots of money in sexuality education as many of you already know). However, as someone who has access to the Internet, I have been able to create my own website, create a blog and share my radical opinions on sex, race, gender, disability, and class which has helped me apply for paying jobs like writing this column on Amplify. An open Internet has really helped me go from working poor to working class, and I know I’m not the only one.

Take for example two sites I have contributed to in the past:
Vivir Latino andRacialicious. Many writers have discussed Racialicious in their posts, and currently the staff there is using the Internet to raise funds for future projects (they call it the $2 Challenge). At Vivir Latino we are currently doing this as well to move to a more secure and working server. Doing this fundraising on the Internet allows the content of these two sites to continue. My homegirls and activists Cripchick and Mia Mingus are moving to California to create “a living record of two queer disabled korean american radical women of color being intentional, vulnerable, fierce and loving with each other” and have used the Internet for similar purposes. The book sale to help cover costs of the move, open (love) letters to one another, and support of their radical and revolutionary love has been possible because of Net Neutrality.

Net Neutrality is the one issue many communities, often on opposite sides of several debates, agree on. Supporters of Net Neutrality include people from various religious organizations, politicians of every political party, youth organizers, non-profit organizations, media outlets and sex workers.

There are also people who are against having the Internet regulated in a particular way as we regulate telephone lines. One of the reasons they are against this, which many Net Neutrality proponents are for, is that if we treat the Internet similarly to telephone “airwaves” new rules apply. Some of these new rules are maintaining an open Internet. I’ve already stated my bias in support of Net Neutrality; I mean this column is called “Media Justice” for a reason. I’m also totally in support of each of you reading what all sides have to say about their positions before making a final decision if you are still on the fence. One way to continue investigating this topic is by understanding the
Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009 (H.R. 3458) and its connection to the Communications Act. Also check out wikipedia’s entry on Net Neutrality which has various positions presented.

What Could Happen When spaces are privatized (hospitals, the postal service, their services are limited to those people that can access them and they are monitored. The same thing will happen with the Internet. Here are a few things that could happen if we no longer have an open Internet:
  • You will not be able to access some or any pages that you often visit, like Amplify.
  • Users will have to pay for accessing some online information.
  • Like cable channels, users will only be able to access from SELECT sites and online resources their provider approves.
  • Paying online bills or sending money/remittance via the Internet will be limited
  • Long distance and international telephone calls using phone cards may be impacted if they use the Internet to use the service. (Skype would be affected too)
What YOU Can Do NOW

There are several organizations you can join and support that are working towards ensuring Net Neutrality for everyone. Check out some of these spaces doing amazing work, including working with migrant populations, communities of Color, older adults, and Spanish-speaking communities.

Free Press Latinos For Internet Freedom Network Neutrality FAQ with Tim Wu NNSquad (Network Neutrality Squad) Open Internet Coalition The Internet The Center For Media Justice

Consider attending the
Allied Media Conference and meet other media makers, media radicals, and folks creating and challenging media representations! And. as the folks at write: Urge your member of Congress to support this important piece of legislation today!

Make your own media like these local youth activists did and share it with us!

Many thanks to
Misty Perez Trudeson who facilitated the Media Radicals discussion and shared several resources with me to write this piece! Thanks to Cripchick who shared the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition zine’s with me earlier this year!

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