The Austin-based South by Southwest music, film, technology fest this week has so far featured populist political discussion on the labor showdown in Wisconsin, Washington war spending and the privatized “debt-based” monetary fund. That was all from Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich. Minnesota Senator Al Franken is set to discuss the future of the internet at 8:30 this morning Colorado time. Franken, like Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, has long fought against the drive to give communications corporations more control over what kind of content flows fastest on the web.
SXSW is a celebration of all the ways in which independent creative minds have been able to find and it’s fitting that there’s now a whole portion of the festival devoted to interactive, because the Internet has proven to be not only a hotbed for innovations that change our lives and an incredible engine of job creation, but also the ultimate self-distribution channel.
Thanks in no small part to the astonishing brilliance and creativity of the folks in this room, people the world over are now able to connect with each other, inspire each other, learn from each other, and entertain each other. And the best part is, no one has to sell out.
You don’t need a record deal to make a song and have people hear it. You don’t need a major studio to make a film and have people see it. You don’t need a fancy R&D job at a big corporation to come up with a great business model and launch it. You don’t even need a high school diploma.
But I came here today to warn you that the party may almost be over. There is nothing more motivated than a corporation that thinks it’s leaving money on the table. They are coming after the Internet, hoping to destroy the very thing that makes it such an important tool for independent artists and entrepreneurs—its freedom and openness.
I know that many of you have heard people talk about net neutrality before. You might have heard me say that it’s the First Amendment issue of our time. And you might already be on board with our fight. But I want to take just a moment to explain it, because part of the strategy being used by people who want to destroy net neutrality is to confuse Americans about what the term even means.
Net neutrality means that content—a web page, an email, a download—moves over the Internet freely, and it moves at the same speed no matter what it is or who owns it.
So an email from President Obama and an email from your Tea Partier uncle come in at the same speed. You can buy a song from an indie band just as quickly as you can buy a song from a band on a major label. And if you start a website for your small business, your customers can have their orders processed just as easily with you as they could if they were buying from a multi-national conglomerate.
We take this basic fairness—this equality, this, shall we say, neutrality—for granted, because that’s how it’s always been. The Internet is democratic. Not capital-D Democratic, although, for that annoying uncle of yours who still insists that government has never created a job, the Internet was developed by the government at public expense.
No, what I mean is that the Internet is small-d democratic. Everyone has the same say. If you want to be heard above other people—if you want your argument to prevail, or your song to be popular, or your product to sell—the only way to do it is to have a better argument, or a catchier song, or a more useful product.
I think this is a good thing. I think most people think this is a good thing. And that’s why your Tea Partier uncle might hear that Al Franken is fighting for net neutrality and say something like, “Leave the Internet alone!”
And that’s exactly what I want. We have net neutrality right now. And we don’t want to lose it. That’s all. The fight for net neutrality isn’t about improving the Internet. It’s not about changing the Internet at all. It’s about ensuring that it stays just the way it is.
It’s the big corporations who now own the physical infrastructure that makes the Internet work, the pipes through which content is distributed—the tubes, if you will—who want to change the Internet by ending net neutrality.
This is the 25th anniversary of SXSW. The list of acts celebrating the fest this year is impressively long.