Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Net Neutrality: Social Change Via Satire and Ridicule

June 3, 2014, 11:00 a.m.

NOTE: Hopefully, after watching this John Oliver bit you, too, will want to file a comment with the FCC regarding its Net Neutrality Proceeding. (My comment is at the bottom of this blog essay.) Although it's easy to do, here are the easy 1-2-3 steps:

1. Prepare in advance the text of the comment you would like to file -- a sentence, or brief paragraph or two (to avoid the frustration of having something go wrong when entering it in the box to be provided, and having to start all over again).

2. If you have difficulty reaching the FCC form for filing comments, try the usual: use a different browser; check your settings for cookies and pop-ups. To reach the form you have two possible paths. (a) One is to go to http://www.fcc.gov/comments. On that page you'll see a list of FCC proceedings, click on "14-28" ("Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet"). If you don't see the list of proceedings there (as I did not when I first tried), try (b) going directly to the FCC's "Electronic Comment Filing System" (ECFS) at: http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/hotdocket/list.action. The "Proceeding List" (that is, list of FCC proceedings) is at the top of that page. The proceeding you want ("Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet") is now the proceeding at the top of that list. Click on the link provided for its number: "14-28."

3. Either 2(a) or 2(b) will take you to the "ECFS Express Upload Form," http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/upload/display.action?z=lexe8

(a) The "Proceeding Number" blank is filled in for you already, "14-28." (b) Enter your name in the "Name of Filer" blank. (c) Enter your Email Address in its blank. (d) In the "Address" section, below, fill in your address, city, state, and zip (e) Block, copy and paste your prepared comment into the box provided (or just keystroke it if you didn't prepare one earlier) (f) When you're done, below that box click on "Continue." (g) This will take you to a page where you can either "Modify" or "Confirm" what you have just entered. If you are satisfied with what you see, click on "Confirm," and your comment will be sent -- and provide you notice that it has been accepted. (Note that this page also provides you with a link to where you can "check on the status of your filing.") You are now free to resume whatever you just interrupted in your life or work.

John Oliver Savages Federal Communications Commission

There are many alternative strategies for bringing about social change, reform, cultural change, or other improvements in the lives of ordinary people.

There is the academic approach: empirical research, data gathering, and the subsequent scholarly articles.

[Scroll down to view video from which this photo of John Oliver was taken.]

There are the popular books, think tank reports, congressional hearings and reports.

There is the use of legal and political process in the form of strategic litigation, or the lobbying of legislative bodies.

There are the philosophical or religious appeals to our better angels, what is required of us morally and ethically.

There is violence -- sometimes, as with our abolition of slavery, including actual war.

And then, there is satire and ridicule. For example, the movie "Network" addressed in roughly two hours what I spent seven years writing about in the form of dissents to FCC opinions.

There are also questions regarding the effectiveness of each of these alternative strategies. The major question regarding reform via satire is the extent to which it is taken seriously, let alone produces action. Is it as quickly forgotten as it initially brought on the joy of laughter? How many of the jokes you heard in someone's stand-up routine one evening can you remember the next morning?

John Oliver seems to have come up with an answer to that question -- or may have. We'll have to await reports of how many comments his appeal produced at the FCC.

Here is what I consider one of the most brilliant examples of satire in the cause of education and advocacy to action I can recall ever seeing.

[Excerpt credit: John Oliver last appeared on Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart last December 2013, after seven years with the show. Since April 27 he has been hosting his own weekly show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO, Sunday nights at 11:00 ET. The excerpt from his June 1 show has appeared a number of places on the Internet; this one is from YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpbOEoRrHyU. See, Joan E. Solsman, "John Oliver's Net neutrality response swamps FCC," cnet.com, June 3, 2014.]

Curious as to what comment I submitted to the FCC? Here it is:

The Internet is as much of a common carrier, a public utility, as the postal system and early AT&T, can serve similar functions in binding our nation together and encouraging communication, with low prices for users, equal access, pricing, and speeds of transmission for all. Without this structure and approach, the FCC -- however dedicated and committed -- will be unable to even know about, let alone prevent, the hundreds or thousands of abuses that will inevitably arise.
-- Nicholas Johnson, former Commissioner, FCC, 1966-73

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