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 www.videocreatorsfornetneutrality.org. 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 Amazon.com 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. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.