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IL Activists: Free, Open Internet Tool for Social Change

PHOTO: Activists in Urbana-Champaign say social movements like Black Lives Matter depend on the open Internet as a powerful public voice for social change. A rally on Saturday will support 'net neutrality,' in anticipation of the FCC's scheduled vote next week. Photo credit: Danielle Chynoweth.
PHOTO: Activists in Urbana-Champaign say social movements like Black Lives Matter depend on the open Internet as a powerful public voice for social change. A rally on Saturday will support 'net neutrality,' in anticipation of the FCC's scheduled vote next week. Photo credit: Danielle Chynoweth.
February 20, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — From Snapchat and YouTube to video games and Netflix, the Internet is the go-to source of entertainment for today's generation. But it also has become a critical tool for social change.

Next week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to pass rules that will classify the Internet as a utility.

As a board member of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, Martel Miller recently testified before the FCC about the ways in which Internet research and videos have helped activists change policies and improve relations between police and the community.

"I look at the Internet today as how television was in the civil rights movement," Miller explains, "where it helps communities to be able to produce their own news – where the news is not just locked into one community, where you can show it nationwide – and bring changes to your community, like they did in Ferguson."

On Saturday, Feb. 21, a rally in Champaign is among a series of actions dubbed #DontBlockMyInternet, to build support for a free and open Internet ahead of the FCC's Feb. 26 vote.

Other events have been scheduled in California, Texas, New York and New Mexico.

Danielle Chynoweth, president of the Independent Media Center board, says the rallies will focus on the essential role of "net neutrality" to low-income communities, artists and communities of color. She adds that an open Internet is a powerful public voice.

"The Internet has been important to Ferguson, the 'Black Lives Matter' movement, 'Not One More' – which is an immigrant's rights movement – and 'Fight for 15,' which is a low-wage workers movement," she points out.

Some big Internet providers and cable companies, including Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, have pushed for a system that would allow them the ability to charge more money for faster speeds.

Chynoweth says it isn't fair to leave those who can't pay in the 'slow lane.'

"If the Internet is not open, then basically, our ability to access information is compromised and our free speech is compromised," says Chynoweth.

Reclassifying the Internet as a utility would allow it to be regulated much like traditional phone service. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and President Barack Obama both have sided with supporters of the move.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL