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Corralling the Internet: Confab Fights Back

PHOTO: Internet freedom was a hot-button topic at the National Conference for Media Reform in Denver, hosted by Craig Aaron and his organization, Free Press. Courtesy Mark Scheerer
PHOTO: Internet freedom was a hot-button topic at the National Conference for Media Reform in Denver, hosted by Craig Aaron and his organization, Free Press. Courtesy Mark Scheerer
April 8, 2013

PORTLAND, Maine - Issues of Internet freedom have been the focus of a three-day national meeting. The National Conference for Media Reform brought together thousands of policymakers, advocates and tech experts, who met in Denver to discuss such issues as protecting the Internet from government, and corporate attempts at limiting its free and unfettered usage.

Congressional bills to regulate the Internet, known as SOPA and PIPA, were roundly rejected last year when grassroots activists organized petitions, protests and a one-day service blackout on the Web. However, according to activist Holmes Wilson, the next threats to the Internet are on the doorstep and may require similar uprisings.

"People care immensely about the Internet; it's so important to them, and there's so many ways that it could get messed up," he warned. "It's honestly, actually, pretty fragile."

Advocates pointed to a cyber-security bill in Congress called CISPA which they say is deeply flawed, a move by AT&T to dissolve regulations regarding affordable and open networks, and international trade agreements that would affect Internet freedom.

Jessica Gonzalez of the National Hispanic Media Coalition worries about the underprivileged and seniors who might lose their "lifelines' under AT&T's plan.

She defined the situation as one "where they're basically trying to do an end run and get out of all their obligations to the public, including the basic requirement that they actually provide service to everyone, which is kind of crazy."

AT&T promises its proposed deregulation will bring substantial consumer benefits.

Craig Aaron, whose group, Free Press, hosted the conference, declared that the uprising against SOPA and PIPA has had a lasting effect.

"The good news is that if you're on Capitol Hill right now, you'll still hear members of Congress talking about not getting 'SOPA'd', he said. "What we really have to watch out for is these big companies: if they don't get their way in Washington, they'll go try to do it at the local level. If they don't get their way at the local level, they'll go try to do it internationally, sneak things into trade agreements."

Elizabeth Stark, an open-Internet advocate and former academic, said blackouts can't be mounted every time there's a threat. She asserted that it's a marathon, not a sprint.

"SOPA was a sprint-like moment where we had a very short amount of time, we had a huge goal and we had to address it and we prevailed and succeeded. But this is going to be decades-long, in our goal to keep the Internet free."


This story/report/program was produced as part of the Media Consortium's Media Policy Reporting and Education Project, thanks to a generous grant from the Media Democracy Fund.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME