Those who control the present control the past. Those who control the past control the future.

- Orwell, author 1984

Those who control our modern means of communication are free to manipulate the past, recast the present and shape the future. Powerful, greedy, immoral – the masters of our converging media/medium empires already trample heavily upon the newly emerging Town Commons.

Unfortunately, with today’s House vote destroying Internet neutrality, a vote generally along party lines, the monopolists now have untrammeled freedom to despoil the Commons.

What is Internet neutrality?

Others describe it much more eloquently (and humorously), but, to me, it’s the liberating idea that once you’ve gained access to the ‘net, you’re co-equal with every other ‘net participant.

The Internet, egalitarian in its evolution, levels the playing field.

A solitary Concerned Citizen , for instance, can dissect, discuss and debate issues, both weightless and weighty , before the same potential audience as the old Grey Lady or super ‘Kos or our local Town crier.

The incredible power of the ‘net to cost-effectively disseminate a message, to ease collaboration with like-minded others, to amplify our collective voices, is unique in human experience.

The closest progenitor? Gutenberg’s press.

550 years ago, this simple, mass produced communications device, unleashed forces leading both to the Reformation and the Renaissance. Unlike the dispersed legions of Gutenberg presses, today’s Internet is a easily-controlled web of interdependent components.

Maybe the lightspeed nature of the underlying technology gives rise to the false perception of citizen cowboys free to wander unbounded ranges.

The reality? Our current Internet toplogy doesn’t connect us directly to each other.

Maybe someday (soon?) that will change as the ability to mesh disparate and decentralized access points into a true self-organizing communications ecology becomes more widely available.

Until then, our missives follow a strictly hierarchal path.

Millions of individual driveways (our phone and cable lines) empty into hundreds of thousands roads (local trunks), pass through many checkpoints and chokepoints (network routers), to eventually comingle along a handful of highly centralized “information super highways”.

Still, once past the centrally-managed toll gates, our conversations were free to flow unimpeded onto the wide-expanse of the growing electronic Town Commons.

With guaranteed ‘net neutrality, “you pay your nickel, you get your ride.”

Without it:

  • your participation hinges on the grudging approval of a handful of merged media, medium and governmental interests.
  • your network spigot can be turned down to a trickle or completely off because of the capricious whims or capacious monetary demands of the ruling oligarchs.
  • the satiating waters flowing from the new 4th estate can be drained away, never to slake our growing thirst for unvarnished truth.
  • our individual voices will not be equal; access will not be equitable. The censoring capabilty of the Cisco-supported “Great (Fire)Wall of China” will pale in comparison.

At the base, elimination of ‘net neutrality facilitates the rise of a new Ministry of Truth; built on the ashes of our Constiution, fashioned from ill-intentioned laws and programs (Patriot Act, CALEA, FISA, Echelon, Total Information Awareness), serviced by a throng of brutish O’Briens (gleefully peeping as they chant the new Surveillance Society mantra “if you don’t have anything to hide…”).

What of our valiant, courageous, front lines of defense? A simple click. Lights out.

Can’t happen here? Already has.

National issue only? Nope. Fiona Morgan’s June 6th IndyWeek article gives us the lowdown on NC legislation directly impacting Chapel Hill’s citizens free use of modern communications technologies for public discourse.

What to do?

Work through our national government? We can’t trust the current national authorities to provide oversight or to punish wrong-doing. The telcos? Many have shunned their own ethical responsibilities and turned against their own customers.

The citizenry should seize back the initiative and support local, community-owned networking infrastructure.

Chapel Hill’s Council will soon be discussing the next steps in creating a municipally-sponsored Internet – one organized to promote the highest level of free and secure communications amongst all of our local community.

Call, email or ‘blog (while you freely can), our Council.

Let them know you “don’t wanna be an American idiot“, living in “one nation controlled by the” medium, succumbing to an “information age of hysteria.”

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