If you use the Internet – and I know you do – get ready. Because a court in Washington, D.C. is going to decide whether the Internet as we know it will continue to exist.
“Today we face a crisis – there’s just too much traffic,” chides a mockumentary released this week called “The Internet Must Go.”
In the film, an actor playing a hired gun for the big Internet providers sets out on a cross-country journey trying to get support for the idea of replacing the free-for-all Internet we have now with a neatly-organized Internet, where you buy a bundle of brand-name sites that would load instantly, while everything else would load slooowly.
Before he sets off on his mission, he’s given his marching orders in a corporate video: “On an open Internet, we’re supposed to treat everything equally. Whether it is profitable for us, or not. This stands in the way of our freedom to make the money that we deserve.”
So what will the corporations do about it?
“The Internet as it exists today, must go.”
But in the video, as our young anti-hero travels the country pushing the corporate line, he encounters all these supporters of what’s called Net Neutrality.
He meets Senator Al Franken, “Net Neutrality is basically the way the Internet has been since the beginning. If you want to get Fox News and you want to get your friend’s blog, you can get them at exactly the same speed.”
He meets with Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit, “In an open Internet, things do well based on their merit. You can actually take less money than it takes to buy a Ford Focus, invest it in a couple of college students with an idea, and three or four years later you can have a billion-dollar company. We can’t afford to lose that.”
In San Francisco he meets Robin Chase, founder of Zip Car, “I started a company called Zip Car, where you rent cars by the hour and by the day instead of owning your own car. People loved the idea, and it was because of an open Internet that people could find me.”
But the climax of the mocumentary is a scene recorded in rural North Carolina.
“We don’t care who provides it – we just need it.”
North Carolina is one of 19 states which prohibits small towns from starting their own community broadband service – as a way to protect the big companies from competition.
So our anti-hero goes to this unidentified town where kids who need the Internet for their homework have to drive to a place called Death Hill near an abandoned building along a busy two-lane road, which is the only part of town high enough that they can get a signal from the next town.
“Death Hill is a high spot on the road where you can actually get 3G connection speeds,” says a resident. “This is where my neighbor’s children do their homework. It’s disconcerting.”
You get idea. The video is aimed at the four corporations that essentially own the Internet: AT&T, Verizon, TimeWarner and Comcast. They have sued to overturn an FCC rule which now requires that everyone have equal access – from gigantic sites like Facebook, to less gigantic sites like MyNorthwest.com.
Instead, they would offer you a bundle of preferred sites, which would pay extra for high-speed access – and everything else would load sloooowly.
The companies say they have to do this because building extra capacity is expensive, and it’s their Internet – and they’ve already won a lower court ruling that it’s illegal for the FCC to attempt to force them to keep a level playing field.
As for the mockumentary, it ends with our anti-hero looking into the camera, and delivering the bad news to his corporate overlords.
“Based on my findings, I’m sorry, but I think you should maybe consider revisiting just building more, better, open Internet.”
At which point he clicks a button, and leaks his confidential report – Edward Snowden style – straight to the Internet.