– LA Town Hall Recap by Erik Larson

By Erik Larson

Cross-posted: – LA Town Hall Recap – LA Town Hall Recap is a U.S. “national initiative of public interest, civic and industry groups” organized by Free Press. This coalition is hosting a series of “town halls” across the U.S. to raise awareness about internet-related issues, and to solicit feedback and involvement from people and communities on ways to improve the Web. I participated in the first town hall, held December 6, 2008 in Los Angeles, CA, and I highly recommend that you attend when it comes to your area, if you’re concerned about the future of the internet in the U.S. Sign up to be notified at outlines four main principles at stake, which most attendees and myself are in favor of: 

1) Access: “Every home, business and civic institution in America must have access to a high-speed, world-class communications infrastructure.”

2) Openness: “Every internet user should have the right to freedom of speech and commerce online in an open market without gatekeepers or discrimination.”

3) Choice: “Every internet user must enjoy real choice in online content as well as among high-speed internet providers to achieve lower prices and faster speeds.”

4) Innovation: “The internet should continue to create good jobs, foster entrepreneurship, spread new ideas and serve as a leading engine of economic growth.” 

Well over 100 people attended- we were divided up into groups of 6-8 and sat at round tables. Most of us were strangers to each other, but almost all of us shared a passion for keeping the internet free from the corrupting influence of corporations and governments, and for supporting the internet’s continued growth and development. The event organizers asked us to consider and discuss a series of questions related to the four principles outlined above. Volunteer “facilitators” at each table led the discussion and took notes on the main points made and issues raised by people. Internet For Everyone will be using the feedback received to inform both coalition direction and action, and local, state and federal policy makers. In between the discussions, speakers gave short presentations, and short videos were screened. Poll questions about audience member demographics, backgrounds, interests and experiences (mostly related to the internet) were displayed on a screen, and audience members answered using wireless keypads. The demographics in the room reflected the internet’s user base more than the general population, but it seemed all races, genders and socio-economic groups were represented. Everyone has a stake in the continued protection and improvement of internet freedom, speed, quality and access. 

The speakers, videos and poll question results were all interesting and informative, but I found the group discussions to be the most valuable part. I appreciated the chance to express my views on issues and get feedback from the group members, and I learned a lot from the other participants at my table, who ranged from network experts to online gaming entrepreneurs to ordinary web consumers like myself. I was lucky enough to sit at the same table as Robb Topolski, the guy who exposed Comcast’s blocking of P2P file sharing. I got his autograph; he doesn’t consider himself an “American hero”, though his research prompted FCC hearings and a landmark ruling against Comcast’s abusive practice. Comcast’s action by itself is a great example of why a law enforcing Net Neutrality is needed. 

Topolski shared with us his thoughts on what may be the best solution for solving future issues with internet traffic loads and defeating corporate monopolization of service. My interpretation of his remarks; “broadband” is viewed by an increasing number of people as a necessary utility, like electricity, clean water, sewer, etc. Broadband access even benefits people who don’t use the internet, due to increased economic growth, job creation and productivity. The “last mile” of broadband “pipes” to residences and business could be funded and owned by publicly-controlled local municipalities, instead of by either the phone company or the cable TV company (if you’re currently lucky enough to live in an area with Broadband access). This will open up the market to entry by new service providers, resulting in increased competition, lower prices and improved service. This is a major reason such plans are fought by Big Telcos in every community that attempts to adopt some version of the idea. Topolski also believes fiber optic is the way to go, as opposed to wireless or coaxial cable; laying the infrastructure is more expensive up front than wireless, but is far faster and more reliable, and has more technological potential for handling projected increases in traffic than wireless or cable. 

The town hall lasted about four hours; I left with more knowledge than I had arrived with, and excited about the future prospects of the internet. It is reassuring and encouraging, knowing so many people are concerned and actively working to protect what we’ve already gained through the internet, and to continue the internet’s revolutionary improvement of our society; increased opportunity, knowledge, creativity, productivity, liberty and equality for all.  


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