[Ed. note: This is a guest editorial from veteran new media creator Chris McCaleb, part of the creative team Big Fantastic, on the online community’s need to understand why net neutrality matters to everyone who uses the internet, and what is at stake for the future of open entertainment. For his full bio see below. The views and opinions of this guest editorial are those of the author and not an official position by Tubefilter News.]
What a strange, bittersweet week this has been for New Media. From a federal appeals court ruling against the FCC last Tuesday, to the controversial circus that was the 2nd Annual Streamy Awards on Sunday, many have questioned the future of our young medium. Full disclosure – I was approached to write this article late last week, before the Streamys, and while I don’t know that I could add much to the numerous thoughtful analyses of the ponderous event, I can certainly talk about a related issue which I am extremely passionate about: Net Neutrality.
A bit of background – I’m one of the four directors who make up Big Fantastic, along with Douglas Cheney, Chris Hampel, and Ryan Wise. We have been creating New Media professionally since 2006, including the series Sam Has 7 Friends, Prom Queen, Sorority Forever, Foreign Body, and Cockpit. I was introduced to the very concept of New Media in January 2006, when I was brought into the group – at the time, there was no such term as “webseries” (they were all “video podcasts”) – and I had certainly never heard of Net Neutrality, nor could I have known then what an important issue it would become to my life and livelihood.
With an open, neutral network – the internet – every single person, regardless of age, race, class, religion, or any other distinction – has the exact same access to give and receive information. The internet was founded upon this principle, and it is the purest form of democracy – true equality. Net neutrality guarantees that your website featuring a comedy series about 20-somethings living together in one apartment, my website featuring a mystery series about a young woman who will be killed by one of her seven friends, and a website owned by the largest telecommunications company in the world, are ALL EQUAL in the eyes of the internet. Because of this net neutrality, one website cannot be discriminated against so long as it adheres to the law, and does nothing to harm the network.
In the realm of New Media, this kind of freedom has allowed for an explosion of innovative, independent new voices, searching for different ways to tell stories, to connect with their audience, to build a brand and make a career. A genuine meritocracy, the open internet allows any individual to create a web presence with global significance, reaching farther than a TV or radio network could ever travel – all predicated on a single GREAT IDEA. Felicia Day and The Guild are a shining example of this – a single idea powering an entire community, building a dedicated audience of millions. Other terrific examples are Ask A Ninja, lonelygirl15, and Rocketboom, as well as one-person phenoms such as Phil DeFranco, Shane Dawson and Michael Buckley. Whether or not you personally watch or like any of these shows – their unique voices endure, through the power of an open, democratic internet, bringing a new form of entertainment to the world. In the words of Steve Jobs – pretty cool, huh?
Giant telecommunications companies such as Comcast would like to do away with Net Neutrality, in favor of a tiered system in which content creators like you and me would have to pay – above and beyond what we already pay – to maintain the same level of service that the partners of the Internet Service Providers enjoy. Their outward motive is profit – which is not terrible, they’re a business after all. The biggest issue is that they wish to extend total control over the network – a network whose construction has been greatly subsidized with billions and billions of taxpayer dollars. These companies would effectively become the gatekeepers of the internet, and they would have great latitude in slowing down, discriminating against, or even blocking some websites, including their competitors. Which sites you could access would fall under the authority of massive corporations, more interested in their bottom line than the open transmission of information over the worldwide system of interconnected computer networks known as “the internet.” Pretty scary, huh?
So what’s with the white ribbons, you ask?
I participate in a semi-regular audio podcast called New Mediacracy, with Steve Woolf and Zadi Diaz of Epic-Fu. It’s a kind of fireside chat with new media creators over a few bottles of wine. We had been discussing the issue of Net Neutrality last Monday, while recording with Miles Beckett and Greg Goodfried, co-founders of lonelygirl15 and EQAL. Two days later, while I was soliciting Streamy wardrobe suggestions via Twitter (it’s a long story), Zadi suggested that we all wear white ribbons at the Streamys to support Net Neutrality. It made perfect sense – this would be the largest assembly of the New Media community all year, with global visibility.
Zadi’s comment sparked the initiative, and from there everything moved very quickly. I immediately contacted the producers of the Streamys and asked for their blessing to bring such a campaign to the event (despite the extraordinary missteps of the awards show, I know all of them to be staunch advocates for our industry and Net Neutrality, as well as founders of the Open Entertainment Alliance). Many thanks to Pam Kulik, who facilitated that communication with lightning speed.
Thursday morning I set out to find 1300 white ribbons – and with just 72 hours until the Sunday event, that was a tall order. With the help of Rachelle Lillard, who worked at Big Fantastic for almost two years, we managed to find a supplier in Colorado who could accommodate our needs. Friday morning, with the package of ribbons in the mail, the Twitter awareness campaign began – a HUGE thank you to those of you who re-tweeted the message! We could not have gotten the word out to as many people without all your help.
The ribbons were supposed to arrive at Noon on Saturday… but they didn’t. 1pm came and went. 2pm? Nope. Finally, at 3:30pm, I called the USPS with my tracking information, and was told that they had no record of the package traveling to California, and that I would not be receiving my package until Monday. I hung up and slammed my fist on the table – visions in my head of a sleepless night folding and glueing 1300 ribbons one by one – when all of the sudden, the package arrived at my door. Immediately after the phone call, just like that. Sunday morning, Kateland Carr and I arrived at Zadi and Steve’s place in downtown LA several hours before the Streamys, and created an assembly line to put the topstick on the back of the ribbons. We barely made it, but the first batch of ribbons were delivered to the Orpheum just as the Red Carpet interviews began.
The goal of distributing the white ribbons was to raise awareness for Net Neutrality within the community, to demonstrate solidarity, and hopefully to spark discussion about the important subject. On a night frought with confusion and disappointment, the white ribbons ended up symbolizing all the best our industry has to offer – a large group of talented, creative, and dedicated individuals, united around a singular cause. This was a genuinely grassroots effort, and it was electrifying to see all those ribbons in the crowd and on the stage.
So what’s next? Unfortunately, we have a tremendous fight ahead of us. Companies with nearly limitless lobbying budgets seek to impose corporate control of our internet, which could foreseeably lead to the restriction of the kind of open, independent entertainment being created today. What can you do about it? JOIN THE FIGHT! The Open Entertainment Alliance (OEA) will certainly be rallying forth this year – but in the meantime, learn more at www.savetheinternet.com, the leaders in the battle to defend Net Neutrality. Write a letter – a real paper letter – to your Representatives in the Congress and Senate, demanding that they support Net Neutrality. And most importantly, keep making New Media – your strong, independent voices are the key to our collective survival.
Photo credit: The Bui Brothers
Chris McCaleb, Big Fantastic: Chris McCaleb is a director, writer and producer, as well a co-founder of the filmmaking collective Big Fantastic. The third season of their Emmy-nominated series ‘Prom Queen’ is scheduled for release in 2010, and they are currently in pre-production on their next series.