As a high school kid, I fell in love with the Internet. It was a place where I could go home after school and chat with five friends on IM, share hip hop songs from the local Philly scene, and even learn about love and relationships.
As I grew up, the Internet helped me develop my political voice.
As the Iraq war was impending and my mother — then an officer in the Air Force — was being deployed to an undisclosed location, the Internet became a place where I could share my concerns, feel supported. With a few people I met online, we started the organization Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), created a Web site and began sharing our views about the war. Even though it wasn’t always popular, our right to share our personal experiences and opinions was protected on the Internet by something called Net Neutrality.
Net Neutrality may sound like wonky gobbledygook, but really, it’s central to all of our personal lives. I know when I first heard about it, my instinct was to just ignore it. It seems like something some IT guy should deal with. I bypassed the Save the Internet YouTube video for weeks before I decided to click on it. When I did, I realized that Net Neutrality was exactly what had made it possible for me to speak out at a critical time in my life.
The First Amendment of the Internet
See, our speech is protected on the Internet by Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality is like the First Amendment for the Internet — it gives us the right to say and do what we want without permission from the government or corporations. Net Neutrality prohibits phone and cable companies from prioritizing some Web sites over others. That’s why we need our elected officials to take a stand and protect this critical right.
Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and all the other large phone and cable companies are spending millions of dollars to make Net Neutrality sound like a needless obstacle. They tell us that the government is going to create unnecessary new laws that will cost our communities and slash services that we need. In reality, Net Neutrality is essential to protecting our voices.
For me, the Internet started as place for a young teen to hang out with friends and learn about life, and it evolved into a place for the highest form of political speech. Now it’s a place where I can read and listen to divergent points of view, write passionately about reforming the prison industrial complex, or organize for progressive change.
As a man of color, I am acutely aware that my voice is not always a popular one. My views — and even how I share them — can be jarring and seem out of place to a society that often communicates differently than me, and may not agree with what I have to say.
Net Neutrality and Universal Access
It is important that we work both to expand access to the Internet and protect our voices online. The same phone and cable companies that helped create the digital divide by ignoring our communities when offering broadband services to some and not others should not now be trusted to act in “our best interest.”
They’d like us to believe that we have to trade away our right to freedom of speech for access to the same broadband services offered in more affluent communities.
But as our foremothers and forefathers warned us, we cannot trade away access for second-class citizenship. Imagine you have access to the Internet, but what you can say and where you go is limited to Comcast’s whims. Is that the Internet you want? Imagine you have access to the Internet, but you can’t pull up your friend’s site because it was deemed “too controversial” for AT&T’s customers. Is that the Internet you want?
We need to make sure these corporations provide needed services to underserved and marginalized communities. And we need to protect our freedom of speech. It’s a false choice to claim we should have to pick one or the other.
But AT&T, Verizon and others are lining up support on their side, spending millions of dollars to make it seem like they have our interests in mind, even setting up front organizations to lie to our faces — but don’t let them get away with it!
We need you now more than ever to speak loudly that we want both Net Neutrality and universal access — and that it is possible to achieve both.