Get ready for Round Two in the Internet's Battle Royale of 2008. At stake is whether we should allow a handful of giant corporations to close the Web for their own gain, or whether we should put in place baseline protections that will leave our Internet open to the millions of people who use it.
Round One occurred late February at a public event in Boston, where Comcast deployed paid seat-fillers to bar others from entering an official hearing of the Federal Communications Commission.
I say "nearly" because Comcast remains defiant. Despite recent overtures to certain file sharing companies, its executive vice president, David Cohen, continues to insist to the FCC and the world that "Comcast does not block any Web site, application or Web protocol including peer-to-peer services."
The FCC in Silicon Valley
We'll no doubt hear more industry spin during the second FCC hearing, scheduled to occur on the Stanford campus, April 17. Barring any new tricks from Comcast, the public should be able to attend. The venue hold's more than 700 people. And we'll be sure to be on guard for anyone who plans to bus in paid sleeper cells.
Stanford is the perfect place and time to take to the next level the public conversation about an Internet free of corporate gatekeepers. It's the crossroads of Web innovation, research and investment. And the FCC has allowed at least two hours for public testimony. (The SavtheInternet.com Coalition is working with allies and partners on the ground to be sure everyone who wants to testify has a turn at the microphone.)
This is a important opportunity. It is rare for all five members of the Federal Communications Commission to leave Washington, D.C. together. It's rarer still to have them together accepting public input in the Bay Area.
An Alarming Trend
And there's no better time to hear from us. Comcast has been caught blocking BitTorrent, Verizon has been caught blocking text messages, AT&T wants to inspect and filter Web traffic.
In 2005 and 2006, the phone and cable companies told us they planned to block and discriminate. The top executives of major telecom companies have stated clearly in the pages of BusinessWeek, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post that they would like to favor certain content over others.
In 2007, they showed us they meant business. In addition to Comcast's assault on competing file-sharing applications, Verizon has blocked text messages sent by NARAL Pro-Choice America to its own members, and AT&T is hatching launched plans to filter and inspect all Web traffic for perceived copyright infringements.
With so much at stake at Stanford, it's encouraging that the FCC's first move is to quickly seek public feedback and expert counsel about the future of the Internet.
Show Up and Speak Out
That the Boston hearing was marred by Comcast's efforts to stack the crowd in its favor -- leaving concerned citizens out in the cold -- demonstrates again why we can't trust these types of companies with an Internet that is vital to our democracy and prosperity.
Those who should ultimately decide the Internet's future are people like you and me -- everyone who uses the Internet every day and in every way. That's why every citizen needs to get involved right now.