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Why Some People Can't Stop Laughing About Net Neutrality

Comedian John Oliver got people to do something about Net Neutrality by making them laugh.

Humor and laughter are sometimes the most powerful tools for conveying complicated information, and for winning people over to your cause.

That was the case when former Daily Show comedian John Oliver used his new HBO show, Last Week Tonight, to go on a 13-minute rant against proposed Federal Communications Commission changes to Net Neutrality. Normally an invitation to Snoresville for most people, the Oliver tirade oddly inspired action.

Oliver skewered the unfortunate boredom factor associated with the way Net Neutrality is talked about, to get people to pay attention. "I would rather listen to a pair of Dockers (the pants) tell me about the weird dream it had," than listen to talking heads speak about Net Neutrality Oliver quipped.

And by the time Oliver was through, tens of thousands of people flooded to the FCC website to voice their concerns. By Tuesday, the FCC took to Twitter to announce technical difficulties due to the tidal wave of comments.

Last month, the FCC ruled to maintain Net Neutrality, a regulatory convention by which all data traveling through the Internet is treated equally, but it left the door open to allowing so-called fast lanes for companies willing to pay more for expanded access. It would do this, not by tampering with consumer connections, but by allowing cable concerns to charge content companies for access to content distribution networks upstream, in effect charging them to deliver their content, and then charging consumers to access the content downstream. (In February, Netflix announced exactly such a deal with Comcast, shortly after Comcast announced its intention to merge with Time Warner.)

"The Internet in its current form is not broken, and the FCC is taking steps to fix that," Oliver said.

Oliver's delivery was pitch perfect, and he used his rapier wit along with salient graphics and news clips to convey critical pieces off information, while making people laugh and urging them to take action on an issue likely to affect them.

Here are some things you might want to keep in mind for your own business if you need to get your point across quickly. Use compelling graphics--Oliver used a combination of the ludicrous and the informative. Keep the message short and clear. Tell people what they can do to change the situation. During his rant, Oliver included the web address where the FCC is collecting comments until the end of June.

Here are a few points that Oliver made:

  • Cable companies operate as monopolies that restrict the choices of consumers.
  • Download and access is costly in the U.S., but speeds are slower than many developing countries and are about equivalent to the speed in Estonia.
  • The current FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, was a lobbyist for the cable companies before he was tapped by the Obama administration to oversee cable companies in his current role. "It's the equivalent of needing a babysitter and hiring a Dingo," Oliver said, while flashing an image of Dingo, licking its lips above a baby's head.
  • Comcast has contributed nearly $20 million in lobbying money to get favorable treatment from Congress.

So how did Oliver do? Here's a comment from Sheila Busson, a concerned citizen identified only by name, to the FCC on Monday. It shows how much information she digested from Oliver:

The fact that Comcast has bought its way into the White House with its $18,810,000 in lobbying and the naming of Head Lobbyist Tom Wheeler to be the Chair of the Federal Communications Commission. He will in fact be regulating his own interests! How can we sit by and allow this underhanded farce? The Net Neutrality must remain intact. The FCC must not allow Comcast, Verizon et al. To charge for different speeds just line their pockets. They already charge the US consumer more than most other countries on earth.

Busson was clearly listening to Oliver. Now if only the FCC will listen to the responses it's getting from everyone else. It has issued no formal response to Oliver's commentary yet.

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IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Jun 5, 2014

JEREMY QUITTNER | Staff Writer | Staff Writer, Inc. and Inc.com

Jeremy Quittner is a staff writer for Inc. magazine and Inc.com. He previously covered technology for American Banker and entrepreneurship for BusinessWeek.




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