Crowdfunding campaign wants net neutrality billboard where US regulator can't miss it

Ohanian turns to crowdfunding site to raise money for a billboard opposing the FCC chairman's proposal

Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian is using crowdfunding site Crowdtilt.com to raise money to place a billboard supporting strong net neutrality rules near the U.S. Federal Communications Commission headquarters.

Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian is using crowdfunding site Crowdtilt.com to raise money to place a billboard supporting strong net neutrality rules near the U.S. Federal Communications Commission headquarters.

Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian has launched a crowdfunding campaign to let the U.S. Federal Communications Commission know, in a big and bold message, that many Internet users are not happy with the agency's new net neutrality proposal.

Ohanian's fundraising campaign on Crowdtilt.com would pay for a billboard near FCC headquarters in Washington, D.C., that protests agency Chairman Tom Wheeler's recent net neutrality proposal.

Wheeler's proposal, which would allow broadband providers to engage in some "commercially reasonable" traffic management, would create a pay-for-priority Internet "fast lane" that will leave some entrepreneurs and Internet users behind, Ohanian said in a video accompanying his fundraising proposal.

FCC commissioners need to realize that the Internet is "a utility, like electricity or potable water that's fundamental to our country," he said. "There are a handful of cable companies that don't want it that way because they want to be able to charge more to certain companies."

Ohanian, now a startup advisor, also encouraged Internet users to contact the FCC and their lawmakers and demand strong net neutrality protections. FCC commissioners "need to know that we cannot screw this up," he added. "We can't. It's too vital."

Ohanian announced the fundraising campaign Saturday, two days after news broke about Wheeler's net neutrality proposal. The FCC chairman is reintroducing proposed net neutrality rules after a U.S. appeals court in January struck down an older version of the rules.

The FCC is scheduled to vote to release Wheeler's proposal for public comment on May 15. Wheeler has defended the proposal, saying the agency will not allow broadband providers to "force Internet users into a slow lane."

"The focus of this proposal ... is on maintaining a broadly available, fast and robust Internet as a platform for economic growth, innovation, competition, free expression, and broadband investment and deployment," Wheeler said Wednesday at a cable trade show. "We will follow the court's blueprint for achieving this, and, I must warn you, will look skeptically on special exceptions."

But critics of Wheeler's proposal say it is a weak rewrite of the earlier rules and would allow broadband providers to collect fees from websites and services in exchange for prioritized traffic. Wheeler has said the FCC would reject most pay-for-priority plans, but FCC officials will look at potential net neutrality violations on a case-by-case basis, as suggested by the appeals court.

Ohanian's fundraising campaign had raised more than US$10,800 from more than 250 contributors by early Friday. The campaign had 13 days left to raise his target of $20,000 on crowd-funding site Crowdtilt.

Ohanian's new campaign mirrors a successful effort two years ago to fund a billboard in the home district of Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and lead sponsor of the controversial Internet copyright enforcement bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act.

His campaign then, happening about two months after Internet protests killed SOPA, raised more than $15,000 for a billboard that warned the lawmaker to not "mess with the Internet."

Separate from Ohanian's new campaign, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal advocacy group, launched NoSlowLane.com this week and is urging President Barack Obama to back strong net neutrality rules as he promised during his first presidential campaign.

Obama pledged to push for net neutrality rules during a town hall appearance on MTV in 2007, in response to a question from Joe Niederberger, a New Jersey small business owner and former Internet engineer.

"I appreciated that promise because it meant a future full of innovation," Niederberger said on a video posted on the NoSlowLane site.

But the new FCC proposal doesn't live up to those promises, Niederberger said. "The FCC should be making the Internet better for us all, not slowing the Internet down, raising costs and hurting innovation," he added.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags Joe NiederbergerreddittelecommunicationregulationU.S. Federal Communications CommissionProgressive Change Campaign CommitteeinternetgovernmentbroadbandCrowdtiltTom WheelerAlexis Ohanian

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service

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