Hello, HASTAC, it's been a pleasure getting to know you in my first three months here.
And I have gotten to know you. I've gotten to know HASTAC in its truest sense, as a community: an amazing, diverse group of multi-talented, incredibly well-read, and deeply invested collaborators and colleagues -- thoughtful, inquisitive people from around the globe -- all of whom I'm proud to support. And please know that when I say support, I mean both in my job as webmaster and in standing alongside this community, advocating for the things that will make the internet, and the web in particular, a more accessible, meaningful, and productive place to be, learn, interact, and collaborate. In fact, my predecessor Ruby opened her first blog by saying, "Hello innovators and collaborators!" And that's exactly it. That's what we all hope to be and that's why we're here. That's at the heart HASTAC and I'm thrilled to be a part of it.
I am admittedly shy about taking on a public role on the site. I tend to work behind the scenes and spend most of my "seat time" doing internal advisory work, supporting users, and working in the quiet recesses on the backend of this site. All that being said, I can be vocal when asked - and sometimes when not asked. I may even talk too much at times. Just ask my co-workers. All kidding aside, I generally observe this amazing community from the back seat, which is where the steering wheel is on most large websites. That being said, like anyone else, there are issues of great import to me personally and professionally. Some of those issues affect everyone here - in fact everyone online right now - and those issue are the ones that inspire me to share and communicate.
Something I've been thinking about a lot lately is the hobbling of net neutrality by the FCC under intense lobbying pressure from the very well heeled players in the ISP game. I had hoped that the FCC would be more closely aligned with the needs of the people. I had hoped they'd see the massive positive potential of keeping access to the full potential of the internet on even footing for all. I had hoped the "tiered" system that seems to be shaping up, differentiated by virtue of payments to a few de facto monopolies to fast-track content, would be seen as it truly is: It is a class-system laid atop arguably the most democratic entity we've ever been able to cobble together with technology or otherwise.
If you're interested in this topic and spend any time on this site, I'm sure you've seen our posting of the Open Letter to the FCC on Net Neutrality, signed by HASTAC among many others. That is collaboration at work. That makes me especially happy and proud to work where I work. I'm also hopeful that the public ruckus being raised on this topic is creeping into more mainstream outlets -- places as accessible as the evening news and Time magazine as well as the "bridge" media outlets which tend to live online.
In fact, this piece on Slate about Community Sponsored Broadband is especially hopeful in its tenor and inspired me to write this post. In it the author takes up the cause of communities creating the necessary facilities to service themselves with broadband, in direct, albeit small-scale, competition with the Big ISPs like Time Warner. There are even kits to do this if you’re into hard work and market disruption (the Open Technology Institute’s Commotion Construction Kit, among others). Who knew? The author likens this to the CSA movement that has sprung up along with the resurgence of Farmers’ Markets, especially in the US. Then again, we also have instances of government squashing such innovative and democratizing efforts as soon as they arise. This has usually taken place under pressure, again, from the Big ISPs. Wilson, North Carolina is a great case-in-point where Time Warner essentially had laws passed on their behalf to ban the further development of community ISPs.
This conversation is not new by any means. The drive to tier and further-monetize internet has been happening for some time. We have a system that is essentially a public utility with a private gatekeeper, and so far that gatekeeper has gotten whatever it’s asked for. But, as people become more engaged in, and more reliant upon, their various internet and web devices and services, they have become more aware of this issue and how it impacts their daily lives. What amazes me, as someone who’s been playing on the web since the get-go, is that something as mundane as watching movies or TV shows (on Netflix) could prove to be the tipping point as these services become ever more deeply entrenched in our lives.
For me this is a ray of hope. Practical familiarity and daily use of technology truly helps us begin to understand it. We will also eventually see that things we take for granted right now may be operating as they do on borrowed time. If each of us raises our own voice in these conversations, the collective effort we leverage can spell the difference between change occurring on our behalves or, effectively, behind our backs.