How to get attention in a technology debate? Do something incredibly low-tech.
That's the idea behind Alexis Ohanian's plan to place a billboard near the Federal Communications Commission office in Washington, D.C. According to TechCrunch, which first reported the news, the founder of Reddit wants to broadcast his protest of the FCC's plans to impose limitations on Net Neutrality, a principle that assures Internet service providers offer access to all content providers equally. Ohanian announced his intentions via Twitter over the weekend.
In mid-May, the FCC is expected to issue new rules that will allow ISPs, such as Verizon and Comcast, to carve services into "fast" and "slow" lanes, according to who is willing to pay more.
The move runs counter to the thoughts of many entrepreneurs and consumers who think a free and open Internet are vital to innovation and a successful economy. Further, many business owners fear they'll be forced out of business if they can't afford to pay higher prices to serve online customers.
Here's Ohanian's tweet:
To back that up, Ohanian has launched a campaign on crowdfunding platform Crowdtilt, with a goal of raising $20,000. As of Monday, Ohanian had raised close to $7,000 from 143 contributors.
Ohanian had launched a similar initiative to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act And Protect IP Act of 2012, placing a billboard that said "Don't Mess with the Internet" outside the Texas offices of Congressman Lamar Smith, the author of SOPA. The bills, which had support across party lines, would have made it illegal to pirate content, but did so in such a sprawling way that opponents said it would hobble the functioning of Websites, browsers, and ultimately the Internet itself. Ohanian's billboard was reportedly funded with $15,000 in just a matter of days from Ohanian's legion of Reddit followers. Both bills were left to languish without a vote.
"[The Internet] is a utility like electricity and potable water," Ohanian said in his Crowdtilt video pitch. "It is fundamental to our country, and if we lose Net Neutrality, it means entrepreneurs like me and Steve Huffman might never have started Reddit, and great innovation can't spring up."
Ohanian said he's trying to fight the "cable-ization" of the Internet, where consumers could be charged for a menu of choices, such as $20 extra to add Google or other websites that are now free.
"Call your member of congress and senators and call the FCC and let them know you won't stand idly by as Net Neutrality is killed," Ohanian said.
The billboard will read, "Keep the internet free & open for all!", although Ohanian is soliciting input for other possible slogans on both Crowdtilt and Twitter.
The billboard will join other forms of protest, such as a recent petition to the White House to restore Net Neutrality by reclassifying ISPs "common carriers," like telecommunications companies. By end of day Monday, that petition had received more than 100,000 signatures.
A lengthy response to the petitioners from Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, and Todd Park, U.S. chief technology officer, noted that the FCC is an independent agency, but said:
Preserving an open Internet is vital not to just to the free flow of information, but also to promoting innovation and economic productivity. Because of its openness, the Internet has allowed entrepreneurs--with just a small amount of seed money or a modest grant--to take their innovative ideas from the garage or the dorm room to every corner of the Earth, building companies, creating jobs, improving vital services, and fostering even more innovation along the way.
Absent net neutrality, the Internet could turn into a high-priced private toll road that would be inaccessible to the next generation of visionaries. The resulting decline in the development of advanced online apps and services would dampen demand for broadband and ultimately discourage investment in broadband infrastructure. An open Internet removes barriers to investment worldwide.