The battle for net neutrality heats up this month as groups including Demand Progress, Free Press and Fight for the Future ramp up nationwide actions under the banner of a new coalition: Team Internet.
Allying with the group are companies like Netflix, Etsy, Foursquare, Kickstarter, Reddit, Tumblr, Upworthy, and Vimeo, among dozens of others. The coalition represents the latest stage in the pitched battle over net neutrality – a fight of many years involving digital rights activists, Internet service providers (ISPs) and lawmakers who have battled contentiously and passionately for reform on their ends of the ideological spectrum.
In one corner stand are those who view net neutrality as a digital manifestation of the First Amendment. In the other, those who think individuals and businesses should be able to pay more for better, faster access to the internet. The result so far: another stalemate with yesterday’s progress back on the negotiation table.
Until, perhaps, now.
Corporate industry groups have recently filed petitions for a writ of certiorari asking the Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision that classified broadband as a common carrier under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. They say that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) exceeded its statutory authority by reclassifying broadband as a common carrier service.
The Team Internet coalition is hardly the first group to protest Congress and lobbyists intent on stripping citizens' rights in the digital realm. However, one distinguishing aspect of the new group is its use of a modern, some might say revolutionary, approach: through peer-to-peer technology and “distributed organizing” tactics that support, and call for, in-person activism across the country.
For example, on September 27, a group of people came together at the U.S. capitol to meet individually with their U.S. senators and representatives. The internet users were recruited through an online campaign of tweets and emails. Additionally, a crowd-funding pagelaunched by Fight for the Future helped internet activists to financially support participants if they could not go themselves.
Now, because of the campaign waged by Team Internet, everyday Americans are meeting face-to-face with lawmakers to warn them of the importance of net neutrality provisions – and to urge them in no uncertain terms to support current Title II status. According toDemand Progress, as of last week around 4,000 people had committed to visiting lawmakers’ in-district offices, and more than 7,000 had signed up to be volunteers. The site provides a daily nationwide events page encouraging people to show up to meet with their representatives.
“The companies trying to kill net neutrality are spending millions on lobbyists who are hitting the Hill constantly to spread fear and misinformation,” said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future. “We’re harnessing the power of the Internet to make sure that those stories are heard over the noise of the telecom lobby.”
Team Internet has employed another tactic to organize people and activities through a decentralized process: Instead of having particular leaders at the helm, the group's activism is supported and created through volunteer-run online and offline sites that support organizing at both the local and state level.
“In the two months since the Internet-Wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality, those efforts have crystallized into a decentralized, grassroots movement to defend a free and open Internet,” write Alison Brzenchek, Mary Alice Crim and Heather Franklin of Free Press.
The group Battle for the Net, put together by the organizing groups of Team Internet, expands on this approach by making it incredibly easy to contribute to the cause. First, one can send a pre-written e-mail to Congress and the FCC. There are also plenty of videos educating the public on the issue, which they make easy to pass along.
Next, you can find your home state with its full list of members of Congress. The site clearly exposes each member's stance on net neutrality, with their photo, and by hovering over each photo, one can immediately send a pre-written tweet to that individual senator or congressperson. The design of the website is intuitive, instant, and simple – all ingredients for a successful digital campaign.
Well-supported, decentralized, grassroots organizations like Team Internet are the antidote to incessant corporate lobbying, and should be a model for other movements to follow. The group promises to apply sustained pressure on the telecom industry and their cohorts in Congress. As the corporate sector continues to flex its muscles through brute economic force, activists are fighting back with mobility and endurance. Where lobbyists and corporate-funded lawmakers work surreptitiously in the dark, activists work openly, on all platforms, ready to resist harmful changes and mobilize more people to join the battle.