For Internet celebrities, net neutrality proves a cause célèbre

A slew of Internet personalities who have gained popularity thanks to online video-sharing platforms such as YouTube are banding together to defend net neutrality, fearful that federal legislation could divide the Internet into fast and slow lanes. 

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler and FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai testify on Capitol Hill in Washington in March. The FCC is considering new rules that could affect 'net neutrality.'

Online video personalities are joining together to advocate for equal treatment of Internet traffic, aiming to stop the U.S. government from allowing what they worry will be fast and slow lanes for delivering content.

The video creators are signing an online petition that will be submitted to the Federal Communications Commission, which is now considering new "net neutrality" rules governing how broadband providers route Internet traffic. Some stars have posted videos about the issue to rally their legions of fans.

Internet campaigns have impacted policy issues in the past. In 2012, a massive online mobilization of Internet users and major websites helped sink anti-piracy legislation.

Organizers hope the new effort, which they are starting to publicize on Wednesday, will raise the visibility of online video creators and the scope of their industry with regulators.

The top stars have built careers by posting videos on Google Inc's YouTube and other platforms. While many aren't mainstream celebrities, they reach millions of fans daily.

As of Wednesday, dozens of online personalities had joined the effort on Those creators represent more than 10,000 videos that have been viewed 5.2 billion times, according to the website.

"This is a huge community, and they will be massively impacted by this," said Michael Weinberg, a vice president at consumer group Public Knowledge, one of the organizers behind the petition.

Another organizer is The Harry Potter Alliance, a group of fans who advocate for social change.

The FCC's proposal, while prohibiting Internet providers from blocking content, suggests allowing some "commercially reasonable" deals where content companies such as Netflix or could pay broadband providers such as Comcast Corp or Verizon Communications to ensure smooth and fast delivery of their web traffic.

Critics, which include Netflix, worry that such rules could result in "slow lanes" for content from sources that do not pay. Video creators are concerned that such rules would limit the ability of independent producers to reach audiences.

The petitioners are asking the FCC to consider classifying Internet service as a public utility, a step advocates say would give the agency more power to stop potential net neutrality violators.

Among the advocates are YouTube stars Hank Green and his brother John Green, a novelist who wrote the book that was the basis for the hit movie "The Fault in Our Stars."

In a video posted on their vlogbrothers YouTube channel, Hank Green stages a debate between himself as an Internet user, and himself as a representative of an Internet service provider. The video has been viewed more than 512,000 times.

Hank Green said he decided to speak out because "the Internet, and particularly the flat and neutral Internet, was the most significant driver of new economic growth of the last 20 years," and he doesn't want new rules to interfere with that. 

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