Note from Beth: Last June at the New York City book party for the Networked Nonprofit, Stephanie Strom, New York Times, moderated a discussion on the themes in the book. (Here’s a recording by Mike Johnson). Vince Stehle asked a great question about how nonprofits might use some of the ideas in the book to engage their networks around Net Neutrality. I invited Vince to write guest post about Net Neutrality and Networked Nonprofits.
This post and the more detailed piece on the Chronicle of Philanthropy will help you get up to speed on the issue and why it is important for nonprofits to get behind. After you read this post, take some action. I did. I sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, contributed $10 to fight evil and encouraged people in my network to do the same.
Net Neutrality for Networked Nonprofits: Guest Post by Vince Stehle
It almost goes without saying: the Networked Nonprofit needs an open network. For nonprofits, access to an open Internet is the fundamental and necessary condition that will allow them to compete in the marketplace of ideas. But that condition is threatened.
Net neutrality has been the default law of the land since the Internet’s founding more than 40 years ago. It ensures that all kinds of information and all people are treated equally, without special pleading or payments. Advocates of net neutrality point out that the free and open nature of the Internet has been a font of innovation and the forge from which our most dynamic new companies—companies like Google—have been created.
But in recent years, a battle has been raging between consumer groups and telecommunications companies over the fate of the Internet—whether it will remain neutral in the way content is delivered or whether phone and cable companies will be able to offer special deals featuring their own content. And by contrast, will these same companies be able to degrade the experience of content that flows outside of the entertainment channels they control.
From the start, Google has been one of the most forceful advocates for an open Internet. So it was with great shock and disappointment—and perhaps even a sense of betrayal among allies and media policy activists—when Google announced in August a joint proposal with the phone giant Verizon over new ways to manage network traffic, one that in particular exempts the rapidly expanding mobile Internet from regulations governing network neutrality.
Why should nonprofits care about any of this?
Nonprofits have greatly benefited from the new information ecology, in which every organization is able to publish directly to an infinite audience of prospective supporters and contributors.
The capacity of nonprofits to communicate directly with their supporters and constituents has expanded their ability to generate financial support and deliver programs that make a difference. And that capacity should not be undermined by an unfairly slanted Internet.
Earlier this year, a U.S. federal appeals court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission has no statutory authority to regulate the Internet. Now, the U.S. Congress and the FCC are considering how and whether to restore the authority of the FCC over companies that deliver Internet service.
Free Press and Public Knowledge are two of the most important advocates leading the analysis and community-organizing efforts to restore sensible regulation that would promote net neutrality. And groups like the Nonprofit Technology Network have made an effort to educate nonprofits about the increasing threats to their free speech rights – and their responsibility to contact Congress and the FCC to defend them.
The battle is lopsided. The telecommunications industry, already a powerhouse in lobbying efforts, has been unshackled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Citizen’s United decision, which permits companies to pump unlimited hoards of cash into political activity. And there’s no telling how much money telephone and cable companies will spend to eliminate regulatory constraints on their business practices.
We may not prevail. But we should not lose our voice without a fight.
Vince Stehle is a philanthropic consultant and a member of the Board of Directors of Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media. This post is adapted from an opinion article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, where Vince is a regular columnist.