Reddit’s Political Action Committee:
We Don’t Support
The New Net Neutrality Rules
The FCC passed net neutrality regulation. To many Internet users, this law’s implication is vague. How will this improve our user experience and why should we care one way or another about what the government has to say about the net?
To one group of users, this law, its implication and why they needed to speak out was clear. Reddit PAC was the brain child of Eddie Geller, a Los Angeles comedian who was upset about the possible defeat of net neutrality. He went to Reddit to express his dismay in a call to arms.
“I got sick of being told what we can’t have, because the political climate is about to be ‘inopportune.’ So, I had the idea that the users of Reddit band together to demand action,” Geller said. He decided to create a political action committee to harness the impromptu support he received for his post, in an attempt to become a serious voice on net neutrality. Geller and his group incorporated, created a website to facilitate grassroots action, traveled to Washington and immediately began to work in tandem with other groups.
I spoke with Geller about the impact of the net neutrality vote and his group’s actions to understand more about neutrality from a grassroots perspective.
What does your membership look like? Who considers themselves a Reddit PAC member and what constitutes that membership?
For legal reasons, I should start off by saying we are now the Open Source Democracy Foundation. We emerged from Reddit and tend to hang out at reddit.com/r/rpac, but out of fear from Condé Nast’s lawyers, we need to make it clear that this organization is not affiliated with Reddit.
That being said, much of our membership is young, educated, tech-savy and passionate about politics — particularly net neutrality. Of course, because of the nature of the users of Reddit, we’re a bit of a “Boys’ Club” right now. That’s something we need to work on, because this is an issue that affects women just as much as men, and we want to fight the perception of the Internet as a male-dominated arena. Also, I’d say anyone who’s joined our e-mail list would consider themselves a member. Members can become more involved by commenting on discussions on reddit.com/r/rpac or attending IRC meetings. And some members are volunteers who work on our website, do research or contribute in any number of ways.
Why do you care about net neutrality and why should the average user?
I care about net neutrality because it concerns me as a citizen and as a consumer.
I believe, as Sen. Al Franken recently put it, net neutrality is “the most important free speech issue of our time.” Right now, the barrier to entry to get on the Internet is so low — and that’s great. But without strong net neutrality rules in place, there could come a day where some speech is harder to find than others. If I want to go to DemocracyNow.org to get my news, I can get there as easily as I can get to CNN.com. The same can’t be said for finding those voices on television.
And it’s not just finding speech that’s the issue — it’s censorship. In 2005, look at what Canadian telecom TELUS did during a dispute with union workers: They blocked subscribers from accessing a site that supported the union members. What if that’s your union? Or in 2007 when Verizon blocked an abortion-rights group from sending out text messages (a decision they reversed and admitted was “incorrect.”) You don’t have to be for abortion rights to realize that the owners of the pipes (the telecoms) could decide that your cause is unfit for the airwaves.
As a consumer, I’m alarmed by the story that came out of Wired last week. It showed a slide from Allot Communications and Openet suggesting their companies could “make it possible for your wireless provider to monitor everything you do online and charge you extra for using Facebook, Skype or Netflix.” And if I owned a small business, that would frighten me, too. I might think, “Are the telecoms going to make it harder for users of the Internet (whether it be mobile or wired) to reach my website?”
The average Internet user should care because they’re definitely a consumer; they’re a citizen of somewhere; and they might even run a business.
In light of that, are you happy with the FCC’s new ruling?
Definitely not. We signed on to a letter with SaveTheInternet.com (along with 80 other groups) to tell the FCC their proposal falls short in five areas: paid prioritization, wireless protections, it’s too easily exploitable to loopholes, it opens the door to specialized services, and it puts net neutrality on questionable legal footing. You can find that letter here (PDF link).
It would have been great to see the reclassification of the Internet from an information service to a Title II Telecommunications Service. Using the Internet is fundamentally about communication and should be treated as such.
Every lobbying entity has a foe. Pro-gun vs. anti-gun. Pro-life vs. Pro-choice. Who is your lobbying foe and why?
Our lobbying foes are any groups that are anti-citizen, anti-consumer and anti-small business. Okay, I know that sounds like too much of a political answer, but I’ll be more specific: The telecommunications industry seems to be leading that charge. But if, all of a sudden, these companies started lobbying for making it easier for Americans of all stripes to access the Internet equally, then we’d no longer be on opposite sides.
Fundamentally, the companies that are fighting true net neutrality rules are looking for a way to pay for the cost of building out the infrastructure needed to provide the rich content and services of Web 3.0 and beyond.
We would like them to do that as well. However, to do that by paid prioritization of traffic, or bandwidth throttling, or other “network controls” creates a fundamentally unfair playing field on the Internet, at the expense of the user. It entrenches the power players, rather than opening up the same opportunities Web 1.0 and 2.0 have brought us.
And if these companies want to make their case that these policies are absolutely necessary, I invite them to send someone to http://www.reddit.com/r/rpac to present that argument. We are very open to honest debate and can be swayed by facts and good arguments.
What’s been your lobbying strategy so far and where’s it going in the future.
We helped deliver 2,000,000 signatures to the FCC with FreePress.net in support of Real Net Neutrality. I also had a conversation with FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to express our concerns with the draft proposal.
I imagine we’ll continue with those sorts of efforts, but we need to also be innovative. We need to work with the culture not against it. Jon Stewart dedicated an entire episode of The Daily Show to the 9/11 First Responders bill and now it’s being talked about again. We need to stop decrying our fellow Americans for watching Dancing with the Stars instead of calling their representatives. Instead, we need to be focused on how we get those people to participate. Once we have some of those people, our calls, petitions, and whatever else we do will be that much stronger.
If you are successful, what does the Internet look like?
An Internet that looks like the one we have now, with very clear rules for how you can’t tamper with it.
Name three things that someone who agrees with you can do to have an impact.
1. Go to http://www.theosdf.org and sign up to be on our mailing list — or even better — sign up to volunteer. That sounds self-serving, but I’m a believer in mass, coordinated action. Calling and writing our representatives is crucial — and by all means, please do that! But if you’re back in the 1930s and you decide you want to fight Nazis, you’d probably be better off joining the Army (if you weren’t already drafted) than to just fly over to Europe by yourself with a grenade and a helmet. Maybe people did that, I don’t know. If they did, I’m sure there was a History Channel special on it.
2. Don’t get cynical. It kills me when people decide to do nothing because they think they’ll never win. I wrote my last entry on Huffington Post on this.
3. If you’re in the media, keep talking about this issue! What’s great is someone like Nilay Patel from Engadget (there are so many others, forgive me blogosphere!). Not only is he unafraid to tell his readers the impact this issue is going to have on them, but he’s writing in a forum that’s not political. His posts about net neutrality are sandwiched between iPad rumors and the videos of people hacking their Xbox. That’s fantastic because it tells readers, “Hey, if you’re using an iPad or playing Xbox online, this issue will affect you.”