Yesterday, at the Personal Democracy Forum in new York, a coalition of media, policy, and advocacy experts launched a new initiative that calls on Congress and the president to act in the public interest by enacting a plan for the wired and wireless Internet built upon the following principles. The project is called Internet for Everyone (http://internetforeveryone.org/)
NOTE: The organization that launched this project, Free Press, is a client — but I do not currently play a role in this initiative.
I won’t try and summarize all the important points made during the session. Andy Carvin from NPR did an excellent job of capturing everyone’s remarks, so you can see as close to a transcript as you’ll find on his Twitter feed (http://twitter.com/acarvin) – look for the #pdf2008 tag, and keep digging because he transcribed much of the content from the conference.
Let me quickly summarize the project:
An open, free, and accessible internet is critical — not just to those who do things online (like myself) — but to all aspects of our economy, our governance, and similar. The future of the internet is the future of all media. It is also the future of education, commerce, philanthropy and politics. And it is pretty clear (to me anyway) that leaving the development of a national broadband policy to the cable and telecommunications industry, who have controlled much of the policy making around this issue, is not a good idea.
The initiative is trying to get this point across through four critical points:
Access: Every home and business in America must have access to a high-speed, world class communications infrastructure.
Choice: Every consumer must enjoy real competition in online content as well as among high-speed Internet providers to achieve lower prices and higher speeds.
Openness: Every Internet user should have the right to freedom of speech and commerce online in an open market without gatekeepers or discrimination.
Innovation: The Internet should continue to create good jobs, foster entrepreneurship, spread new ideas and serve as a leading engine of economic growth.
They haven’t agreed on the specifics of the policy behind this yet — and probably won’t for a while — but a broad, bi-partisan, multi-disciplinary group of experts from business, policy, entertainment, and more have come together to help support the effort. For starters, look at the group that they pulled together for the announcement:
Josh Silver, Executive Director, Free Press
Brad Burnham, partner at Union Square Ventures
Robin Chase, CEO of Meadow Networks, co-founder Zipcar
Van Jones, president, Green for All
Michael Winship, president Writers Guild of America – East
David All, co-Founder Slatecard.com and TechRepublican.com
Tim Wu, Columbia Law professor
Jonathan Adelstein, FCC commissioner
Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder, Berkman Center for Internet & Society
int Cerf, chief technology evangelist of Google
Larry Lessig, Stanford Law professor
Going forward, the group will be hosting public forums across the nation to get citizens involved. They will be highlighting the challenge that real people face in rural (and other) areas where they don’t have access to broadband. And they will be soliciting input and inviting supporters to take ownership over aspects of the campaig, so that this becomes a true citizen movement.
This is a tremendously important issue. This initiative deserves national attention – not just within policy circles, but at kitchen tables, in schools and libraries, and among friends over a beer or coffee. This will be the darling of the wonk establishment, and the media (ironically) will almost certainly help carry the torch. But, more needs to be done.
This issue is complex. People don’t make an association between this issue and their daily lives. The people who don’t have access to broadband probably don’t fully realize why its such a big deal. And the people who already have it take it for granted.
So, for this effort to be successful, we have to own it. By we, I mean the people who appreciate the opportunities created by free and open access to high speed internet. The people who recognize and value a spirited exchange of ideas, the opportunity to grow community and conduct business from anywhere, anytime. By we, I mean you.
We can’t leave this cause to the groups already immersed in this issue, the professional organizers, nor the legislators who will ultimately craft the specific policy. If needed, we should go door-to-door, recruiting our neighbors and friends. We must take responsibility for answering all the questions that people have and pushing content out – online and through traditional means – so that word spreads and people make this issue their own. Most importantly, we can’t fall into the trap that so many organizations have fallen into with the rise of the internet, where the activity happens online (but never reaches the real word), we focus on the tools (blogs and wikis and such) and not on the outcomes, and where the same people are talking to each other as they always have (and few new voices finding a place in the discussion).
I’ll make that case to my clients, colleagues, friends, family, and really anyone else who wants to listen. I hope you will also.