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April 28, 2006

DEMOCRACY 2.0

[Rachel's introduction: For 10 years the Internet has given huge
numbers of people easy access to information and communication.
Recently, political organizing across the Net has begun to threaten
the real "powers that be" -- the corporate powers behind the throne.
Now corporations are making their move to restrict Internet access.
Unless citizens take immediate action the Net will fall under
corporate control. The fight for equal access is on.]

By Timothy Karr

[Timothy Karr is campaign director for Free Press, which is
coordinating the SavetheInternet.com coalition.]

As of this morning, more than 1,500 blogs have taken up a new cause,
posting links to SavetheInternet.com and urging their readers to
call on members of Congress to stand firm in defense of Internet
freedom.

And, for the first time in blogger history, the Hill is hearing it.

The cyberstorm is over "Net Neutrality," the principle that prevents
large telephone and cable companies from controlling what we do, where
we go and what we watch online. As part of a vote on new
telecommunications legislation on Wednesday, House Energy and Commerce
Committee members defeated an amendment by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.,
that would have protected net neutrality by a count of 34-22.

What's remarkable about this result is the shift that occurred on
Capitol Hill in the week prior to the vote. An unlikely coalition of
political activists from the right and left, consumer groups, bloggers
and Internet gurus banded together at SavetheInternet.com and sent
more than 250,000 letters to Congress. This sparked an Internet revolt
among bloggers who heaped scorn upon any member of the House who dared
side with companies like AT&T and Verizon, which are spending millions
of dollars in Washington to dismantle the rules that would stop their
plans to control Internet content.

When it came time to vote on Markey's amendment, two Democrats on the
committee switched their previous votes to favor net neutrality and
several others, who had been undecided, also voted for the amendment,
citing the explosion of public interest in the issue.

More elected officials on both sides of the aisle, in both the House
and the Senate are now monitoring the pulse of the blogosphere as this
issue spreads offline.

"We would not have turned the corner in this fight without your blogs,
your voices," Congressman Markey said yesterday during a
teleconference with bloggers. "We need to put every member of Congress
on record on where they stand on the future of the Internet," Markey
said. That momentum has shifted in Congress, he continued, "is a
reflection of the rumbling in cyberspace about what's going on with
this bill."

Bloggers from left, right and center, including DailyKos, BuzzMachine,
Atrios, Instapundit and even actress Alyssa Milano, called on their
readers to pay very close attention to this issue. They've urged
everybody to go after any elected representative who ignores the
public interest in favor of the well-heeled telephone and cable
lobbyists that have swarmed Capitol Hill as representatives attempt to
rewrite telecommunications law.

Undaunted by the committee defeat, Markey is now rallying colleagues
on the left and the right to support the introduction of his Network
Neutrality Amendment onto the full floor of the House next week.

But it's an uphill battle. For the amendment to be voted upon by all
members, it has to first get past the House's gatekeepers on the
Rules Committee, which Rolling Stone 's Matt Taibbi calls , "the
free world's outstanding bureaucratic abomination -- a tiny, airless
closet deep in the labyrinth of the Capitol where some of the very
meanest people on earth spend their days cleaning democracy like a
fish."

This 13-member committee (nine Republicans and four Democrats) holds
the congressional agenda in its grip. If Rules votes down your
amendment, your amendment is DOA. Bloggers are banding together to
ensure that no member of Congress gets off the hook that easily.

"There's a white hot firestorm on the issue on Capitol Hill," Matt
Stoller said in a post at MyDD. "No one wants to see the telcos make
a radical change to the Internet and screw this medium up, except,
well, the telcos."

Politicians get scared when they realize the public is paying
attention. As the blogosphere catches fire, momentum is shifting in
Washington. Whereas before the big telephone companies and their coin-
operated lobbyists were confident that Congress would simply roll over
and do their bidding, today no member of Congress can vote with the
telecom cartel without expecting repercussions.

The public is now watching and, with increasing frequency and volume,
the message is getting through to Congress: we will not stand for any
law that threatens Internet freedom.

We can all take action now to save the internet.

Copyright 2006 TomPaine.com