The use of the Internet and other new communication technology is surging around the world, driving changes in economic development, human rights, civic engagement, education, arts, culture, and the environment. Recent news from Egypt highlights the impact of this technology—and its vulnerability. Many were shocked that the Internet could be “turned off” in an effort to curtail dissent, but this sort of government and corporate control is one of the deepest unanswered challenges for 21st century democracy, equality, and freedom.
Keeping up with change can be difficult; understanding the new policies that govern these technologies is even more challenging. One major decision that may be off your radar but will most likely impact your work is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s recent ruling about openness and control of the Internet—otherwise known as Net Neutrality.
Net Neutrality describes the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs)—typically big corporations like AT&T—can’t favor certain content in the process of delivering it to customers. With a neutral Internet, you’re able to access all websites at the same speed. The ISPs would like to start charging to provide faster delivery to the highest bidders.
Instead of issuing a concrete ruling on this question, the FCC created confusion by providing weak protections for the wired Internet while leaving wireless Internet mostly unprotected. Yet the big ISPs are working to weaken or destroy even these inadequate protections through lobbying and lawsuits. Verizon and MetroPCS have each sued to stop the rules and Congress challenging them.
In Philadelphia, we’ll explore these and other issues in what I expect to be an exciting panel at noon on Monday, April 11, “How Technology Affects Everything—and What You Can Do about It.” This panel features Geoffrey Blackwell, chief of the Office of Native Affairs and Policy, FCC; James Rucker, cofounder and executive director, Color of Change; Michael D. Smith, vice president of Social Innovation, The Case Foundation; and Beth Kanter, social media guru and co-author of The Networked Nonprofit. I hope to see you there.
Helen Brunner is director of the Media Democracy Fund