January 26, 2014

Nonprofits, Philanthropy and Net Neutrality

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If I walked into the local pub and sat down at the bar, I'm wondering about the blank stares I would get if I asked the person sitting next to me, "So, how about that net neutrality thing?"

(Since the topic is in the news again, I'm reposting an updated version of an article originally written in 2006.)

net neutrality beer-1I'm positive the entire bar would go silent, and barring the presence of one of the members of the local computer users group, nobody would say anything. It would be crickets.

It wouldn't hit them until they want to watch a movie on Netflix, or visit iTunes, or Charity Navigator. If you're reading this, it will affect you. It affects the poor, it affects every user of the internet regardless of class – although some may be able to pay for better access to what our taxes have subsidized – much like access to a professional sports stadium. The loss of net neutrality will affect how your nonprofit or philanthropy engages supporters and tells the story of its impact.

As proposed, the Telecommunications Act could have a negative effect on your nonprofit. Your web site (if you have one), is the center of your communication network. How will you raise funds online if access to your web site is restricted? Alex Jucabenta states on Crain's Cleveland Business:

"Congress has the power to reshape the Internet as we know it and the results of which may not be to the benefit of the consumer. As it now stands, most users connect to the Internet via some sort of wire connected to an Internet service provider. Thanks to the Federal Communications Commission, regulations that required telecom companies to provide open access to the Internet were removed last year."

(Of course, many people no longer directly connect via wires... the computer I'm typing on is wirelessly connected to a router, which is wired into the internet.)

Will enough of us step up to prevent the Internet from being censored by large telecos and cable companies, and those willing to prevent the free and unfettered exchange of information and practice of social entrepreneurship? Will enough of us contact Congress to encourage our representatives to intercede with the FCC?

The proposed restriction of access and favoritism will have cascading economic effects. Enacting this legislation will create an uneven playing field for thousands of nonprofits both in the US, (and of equal importance) and in the global economy.

“Without net neutrality the non-profit sector will now be forced to compete directly with for profits on the cost of messaging.” Andrew Rasiej

While referred to as "net neutrality," this amounts to internet censorship and discrimination in many ways by both public and private concerns.

Close to 80% of businesses in the US are small businesses. The growth and success of many of these businesses are related to their unencumbered use of the internet for which they already pay fees to telecom and cable companies. There are thousands of nonprofits and philanthropies that rely on successful income earners, employed by those businesses, (and upon the generosity of businesses as well) for donations and support.

You or I cannot compete with the lobbyists who are plying Congress with money and favors in order to gain an unfair competitive advantage. The Internet was designed to be a free and open medium where your nonprofit organization's voice can be heard, and your stories can be told.

The Internet is where US citizens and the nonprofits that they support, daily practice freedom of speech. Are we willing to allow Congress to suppress that freedom? I support Net Neutrality, please join me if you haven't already.

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