1:12 PM EDT
On your way to work, between flipping through pages of your book on an e-reader, you check your email on your phone. When you’re ready to leave in the evening you check the train schedule on that very same phone. Once home you surf the web to order your holiday presents and watch a video online. Just a few short years ago many of these tools on the Internet that we now consider essential to our everyday living did not exist.
The Internet is changing rapidly and all indications point to a pace that will not slow. Today’s workshop will explore the myriad possibilities that today’s dynamic Internet has allowed. From news, to entertainment, to social networking, to law, and every conceivable realm in between, the Internet is changing the landscape as we know it. Today’s panel represents bloggers, minority media owners, community and advocacy groups, and legal scholars (and we even have a legal scholar who moonlights as a blogger). We have quite a line-up here today which promises some great discussion on a fascinating topic.
1:35 PM EDT
The panel is being moderated by Stuart Benjamin, an impressive introduction given that this is his first day at the FCC as the Distinguished Scholar in Residence. Commissioners Copps, McDowell and Clyburn will give statements, and then the panel will begin.
1:46 PM EDT
Michele Combs, from the Christian Coalition of America, explains that the Coalition is connected in every way imaginable. They tweet their members, produce YouTube videos, and ensure that they make the most of web capabilities in reaching out to their constituents. With these tools they compiled and distributed to churches voter guides for the Presidential race last year. When an amendment they opposed came up in congress, they organized their base and facilitated the mailing of hundreds of thousands of emails to congressional members to defeat it. She emphasizes that the open Internet allows them to “reach members directly without a media filter.” She is concerned about invasion from Internet service providers. “The open Internet levels the playing field” and allows them to get their message out to all of their members to coalesce around the issue of the moment. Ms. Combs stresses that the rules shouldn’t overstep their bounds; but more importantly her organization’s message should not be submerged for their ideological bent.
1:53 PM EDT
As Commissioner Mignon Clyburn made clear in her opening remarks, the Open Internet proceedings affect minority business owners as much as any other stakeholder. One such company is Jonathan Moore’s Rowdy Orbit. The company gives an online platform for programming featuring African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, and is primarily intended for those audiences. Mr. Moore created the media company “out of frustration over the lack of representation of people of color in traditional media… The only way I could create and deliver a solid platform was the Internet,” he says. He explains that these shows are examples of “Great storytelling that would have been shelved by a traditional process” and give “an unobstructed direct line to an under-served viewing audience. A launching pad for quality multicultural programming.” Another advantage of the Internet is that it’s incredibly inexpensive. “From the start of developing the business plan to today, my out-of-pocket investment has been only $526.” This is the quintessential business success story of the poor immigrant coming to America with a few dollars in his pocket and making it big. The Internet has given Rowdy Orbit that chance.
2:10 PM EDT
Professor Glenn Reynolds has an interesting perspective and speaks to the immeasurable opportunities that the Internet is creating. A few years ago, he says, he founded Instapundit.com. What began as a means for him to supplement his Constitutional Law classes with some relevant blogging on the side, has become a full fledged opinion site with between 400,000 and 500,000 views a day. He discusses how the Internet is entirely upending journalism, allowing independent journalists to report on the ground from Iraq and Afghanistan based solely on reader contributions. Also touching on the value of citizen reporting, he says that there is now typically someone there to capture news instantly as it happens. In moments it can be viewed by millions. Low barriers to entry on the Internet, he says, facilitate all of this.
2:18 PM EDT
Online video is in its nascent stages and Ruth Livier is a pioneer. She was the first person to join the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) for her work on the web. She produces and stars in a show called Ylse, about a struggling, modern American Latina woman. The show has become enormously successful and now boasts half a million viewers in only its second season in production. She hasn’t spent a dollar on marketing. She says, “As an American and a Latina I got tired of seeing disproportionate amounts of negative stereotypes… I saw in the web an opportunity to partake in redefining those unfair and unbalanced perceptions.” The Internet allowed her that chance to grow her show with few obstacles. “There is no way I could have gotten my show produced through traditional media,” Ms. Livier says. Given the success of her show she now has employees. “As a small business owner, I hope to create jobs and open opportunities for others.” These possibilities depend on the Internet as an open and growing platform. She concludes, “A neutral Internet is our best opportunity for diverse voices to partake in the molding of the American perception and perspective.”
2:25 PM EDT
Yale Law professor Jack Balkin forcefully argues against allowing Internet Service Providers to play the roll of free speech arbiter. “The first amendment protects speech; it does not protect business models,” he concludes. He also emphasized the need for transparency on the part of providers who block content. Bob Corn-Revere, a partner at David, Wright, Tremaine law firm is opposed to net neutrality rules, citing Commissioner Robert McDowell’s opening statement in which he said that when a company makes a mistake it affects that company. When the government makes a mistake, it affects everyone. Garlin Gilchrist, a blogger with an engineering background who runs New Media for the Center for Community Change discussed the incredible journey that much of this technology has traveled. Andrew Schwartzman, President of the Media Access Project, provides anecdotes of Internet Service Providers blocking customers’ access to various web content. This is a destructive approach, he argues, and calls on the government to take action to ensure the Internet does not slip down a slippery slope of access restrictions.
2:43 PM EDT
The question and comment period has commenced.
3:02 PM EDT
This concludes today’s lively discussion on Speech and Democratic Engagement. Panelists came to the discussion with a number of different view points and offered terrific perspectives on how far, if at all, the FCC should go in taking steps toward preserving the open Internet. Even more intriguing was hearing the stories of the panelists. They noticed an absence in the market, created their obscure website with few resources, and eventually carved out a substantial space for themselves in the ever-growing Internet community. Two other workshops, on “Innovation and Investment” and “Consumers and Transparency,” will take place in the coming weeks.