Live from the DNC: Net Neutrality - The Battle For Democracy

To set the context for this blog, let me just start by explaining that there is currently an 8,000 square-foot, two story structure in my office building's parking lot, which is known as the Big Tent. The Big Tent is the place to be for new media journalists, bloggers, reporters, and non-profit leaders covering the Democratic National Convention. One of the great things about the Big Tent is the immense lineup of panels on the second floor throughout the four days of the convention. (Another great thing is the free beer garden provided by New Belgium Brewery).

This morning, I attended a panel on Net Neutrality. As a blogger, my interests in this issue are probably quite obvious, but the bigger picture of what I walked away with is how the real stakeholders in this are all people who live in the United States and are appreciative of our country's commitment to democracy. Panelist Adam Stoller, of OpenLeft summed up the importance of this issue:

"This isn't a story about technology - this is a story about democracy."

The campaign to secure net neutrality (and this has been described as the most successful netroots campaign in the history of the United States) rose up in response to broadband network corporations' tactics to restrict access to sites and applications deemed unfavorable to their business. For example, sites belonging to large corporate interests would be made to load more quickly than sites belonging to small businesses, or applications owned by the broadband corporation would be made to work faster than applications owned by another business.

The reason we can regard the net neutrality debate as a debate about the fundamental principles of democracy is due to two factors: the concept of a free market, and the concept of an open and free press.

The first factor is straightforward: conservatives who claim to defend free market principles are actually embracing the opposite when restrictions are imposed for small businesses and large corporate interests are given a built-in advantage for communications and marketing.

"Because the backbone of US internet is owned by major corporations - the conservative mantra of 'government hands off, let the free market prevail' doesn't actually happen with media," said Josh Silver, Executive Director of Free Press.

Which brings me to the second factor of the issue's significance: one of the fundamental principles of democracy is a free and open press. The internet has literally revolutionized the way we communicate and get our information - Silver described it as a "paradigm shift for all media." To throttle access to information is thwarting democracy in action - the will of the people cannot be put to progress if the people are getting skewed, incomplete or biased information.

An example of this is how 3 million people wrote to the FCC (the Federal Communications Commission) to express their anger about being lied to regarding the basis of the Iraq War. The corporate control over our media represents one of our country's biggest hurdles in achieving a fair and true democracy - if the information reaching people attempts to control the will of the people, then we cannot accurately say that our country operates on the principle of 'rule of the people.'

In response to the exposure of the Pentagon's plan to groom military pundits and have them appear on mainstream news networks to speak favorably of the war, Progressive Future launched a Petition for an Open Press. Although the exposure of the plan caused the Pentagon to discontinue the program, the concept of a free and open press still hangs in the balance. Sign our Petition for an Open Press and defends one of the primary constitutional principles of our great country.

Tags: Big Tent, Cable companies, Comcast, DNC, net neutrality, telecom (all tags)


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