Civic News
Events / Internet / Social justice

Net neutrality hearing ‘NY Speaks’ draws activists, policy wonks

A rally and unauthorized public hearing organized by nonprofit groups in support of a free and open Internet drew big names — Kickstarter, Etsy, the mayor's office — and lively demonstrators.

Demonstrators dramatize proposed Internet fast and slow lanes outside the Brooklyn Public Library, before the "New York Speaks" hearing. (Photo by Brady Dale)

Kickstarter and Etsy showed up at an unauthorized hearing on net neutrality at the Brooklyn Public Library’s main branch on Monday night, called “New York Speaks.”

The Manhattan borough president, Gale A. Brewer, a member of the mayor’s office and Rep. Jerrold Nadler all spoke to the issue of net neutrality.

The Internet is magic, a place to bring your dreams to life. If the Internet changes, the world will be a much less interesting place.

The hearing was the second part of an event designed to document community support for a free and open Internet. It’s the beginning of a nationwide campaign of similar gatherings, according to Craig Aaron of Free Press.

The gathering was motivated both by the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to permit preferential treatment for wealthy content providers (which we have been following) and the pending merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Before the hearing, net neutrality supporters rallied on the front steps of the library.

A woman named Dragonfly, with giant, red hair, was the main person on the mic, whipping up supporters with talk of how the corporations want to stifle community leaders’ ability to get necessary information out to the public in favor of the latest gossip about Jay-Z and Solange.

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“Dragonfly” led the pre-hearing rally. (Photo by Brady Dale)

Meanwhile, a library cop who looked like a cross between Danny Devito and Harvey Keitel walked around somewhat anxiously in sunglasses, talking on a Samsung flip phone. Organizers of the pre-hearing rally clearly decided to go with the more musical, street theater approach with the first half, while their crowd, honestly, was more the wonky activist type doing their best to get into it, but not really getting there.

Maybe 50 or so people showed up to participate in the outdoor dramatization of fast lanes and slow lanes. By the time the event moved inside for the hearing, their numbers had swelled to about 100.

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(Photo by Brady Dale)

The events were organized by Free Press, Demand Progress, Common Cause, Media Justice, MAG-Net and Consumers Union. Once inside, local dignitaries and locals themselves spoke to the need to keep the Internet open and level. This testimony was collected and would be delivered to the five FCC commissioners, all off whom, we were told, had been invited to the event. Aaron, the CEO of Free Press, stated that the Brooklyn hearing would be the first of many.

“We know that right here in Brooklyn, people are dreaming up the startups that we may soon see as indispensable in our lives,” Aaron said, in explanation for why the effort was starting here.

He then spoke to the digital divide issues that have plagued the borough, kicking off the first of several shout-outs to the Red Hook Initiative, for its hands-on work on the issue. “If this discussion about Internet policy stays in Washington, we’re going to lose,” Aaron said.


Have a look at the video below.

The main event for the rally outside seemed to be the dramatization of the implications of net neutrality. People carried signs showing headlines, and the event’s MC directed them to carry their “news” through the fast or slow lanes.

In the slow lane, news about police shootings and Ebola in West Africa moved slowly toward the people. In the fast lane, news about celebrities and fear-mongering moved rapidly to the people.

Between musical performances by the band Digital Diaspora, Dragonfly (a soprano in the Stop Shopping Choir, she said), led the crowd in chants, such as, “Verizon, Comcast, AT&T: we want net neutrality” and “Free speech, free press, free people redress.”

Inside, during the hearing, a long list of people got a chance to speak on their reasons for supporting a free and open Internet. Everything from the need for young gay people to connect with people like them, to the need to find alternative information about what’s happening in Palestine.

Here are a few key points we jotted down:

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler reminded the crowd where the idea of a “common carrier” came from. Standard Oil had used its market clout to negotiate better shipping rates with railroads, giving the energy giant an unfair advantage. The federal government created the idea of a common carrier, so that when only one route to customers was available, it couldn’t be leveraged in a way that disadvantaged consumers.
  • Althea Erickson, of Etsy, took that same point and played it out for Etsy. She explained how the company has worked very hard to keep very little of the money its sellers earn. If Etsy had to pay for fast-lane access, she said, that would either chip away at its sellers’ income (as the increased costs got passed on) or the company would opt to remain in the slow lane and Etsy sellers would lose traffic. Either way, Erickson said, independent makers would lose.
  • Maya Wiley, counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, focused first on ways the city has started to close the digital divide, but pointed out that many public schools here still have spotty broadband. She then spoke to how the mayor had been critical in organizing other mayors to support net neutrality, even joining a subset of those mayors in advocating for Title II, or common carrier, classification.
  • Julie Wood spoke for Kickstarter. She described how busy the company’s early days were, adding that, fortunately, one thing its founder, Perry Chen, didn’t have to deal with was going to broadband providers and negotiating for fair access to subscribers. Wood said Kickstarter still only has one lawyer on staff and not nearly enough resources to negotiate with every carrier, concluding with, “The Internet is magic, a place to bring your dreams to life. If the Internet changes, the world will be a much less interesting place.”
  • Dallas Donnell of Color Of Change said that the Internet has been critical to helping people of color to organize, saying, “History has shown that if others are left to tell our stories, they will never be told.”
Julie Wood, Kickstarter

Julie Wood of Kickstarter speaks to her company’s support for net neutrality. (Photo by Brady Dale)

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Althea Erickson of Etsy describes how paying for “fast lane” broadband acces would cut into income for small businesses. (Photo by Brady Dale)

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Attendees listen to Maya Wiley, counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo by Brady Dale)

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Empty seats for the invited FCC commissioners, on stage throughout the hearing. (Photo by Brady Dale)

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Digital Diaspora performs at the rally. (Photo by Brady Dale)

Etsy and Kickstarter are both founding members of a new interest group in Washington lobbying for an open Internet.

Watch the full hearing on Livestream, courtesy of the Internet Society of New York:

Companies: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) / Brooklyn Public Library / Common Cause / Etsy / Kickstarter
Series: Brooklyn

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