Random thoughts about watching, working and living in the arts, from HMS co-founder and executive producer Scott Silberstein. "In The Moment" offers a quick 60-second read about new ideas, events, shows and productions in the HMS world, and "Adventures In Yes" takes a deeper dive into how art and media reflect, define and inspire our world. Enjoy!

January 1, 2018

ADVENTURES IN YES: "Widening The Net"

If you forward only one of my blog posts, this is the one to forward. 

Net Neutrality, in a nutshell

Yes, you're right, it is a bit nervy to say, “If you forward only one of my blogs, this is the one to forward,” as if forwarding my blogs is a thing people do. But if I have a voice in our community, and a handful of colleagues recently assured me that I do, then perhaps 2018 is the year to embrace that more fully.

Perhaps 2018 is the year we all do that, because if I have a voice, then surely you do, too. I follow a lot of you on various forms of social media, and none of that has been time wasted. I love learning more about who you are, what you do and above all what matters to you. We might not agree on everything, but whatever our relationship, whatever we may have worked on together and whatever you may think of my views on politics, art, business or the latest STAR WARS movie (and don’t believe the haters, it is mind-blowingly surprising and exciting, but more on that in my next eminently forwardable post), the following sentence applies:

Everything I’m going to write about in the next ten and mercifully brief paragraphs impacts everything we do and love, and it matters as much to you as it does to me.

Because stating the obvious is one of my most treasured hobbies, I'll offer this: if you’re reading Adventures In Yes, you’re online (unless you’ve broken into my house and are reading this on my laptop, in which case be assured that my browser history is strictly for RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY). Being online, you are, like most others, operating under the assumption that you can more or less depending on your ability to view, send and receive content reliably and without genuine Orwellian oversight. In which case, Happy New Year! You’ve just been stabbed in the microprocessor by the Federal Communications Commission.

Dry as an institution like the FCC might sound, and brain-numbing as the phrase “net neutrality” (a Blade Runner-esque phrase you’ve likely heard being bandied about in the last few weeks) might sound, the former has just repealed the latter. The FCC has repealed the principles of net neutrality, and the regulations that go with it. So why is this perhaps the scariest thing that happened in our country last year, in a year defined by scary things happening to our country?

Rolling Stone sums it up nicely: “When you pay your fee to get online, you get everything. But under the new regime, a handful of the most powerful telecommunication companies in the U.S. – Comcast, Verizon, AT&T – will have unlimited freedom to slice and dice the Internet ecology as they please.” Which means that if you’re making content and relying on it being seen and shared, the FCC wants you to be at the mercy of the big internet service providers, who could now slow down your streaming speeds because you’re not as important to them as Netflix or Amazon; upcharge internet users for access not only to your site but also your social media networks; and, if they so choose, block your content if they deem it unsavory to their boards or financial stakeholders.

If you think that sounds paranoid, think again, because it’s already happened. FreePress.net has the details on some of the more notable cases, including AT&T forcing Apple to drop Skype from its phones unless it imposed an upcharge; Verizon blocking people from using tethering applications on their phones; and Windstream copping to hijacking Google searches within Firefox and redirecting them to its own search engine. And that was PRE-repeal.

HMS, our clients and our colleagues – everyone reading this, in fact (even the ones who jimmied my front door lock and are currently sitting in my house, sipping from one of my many herbal teas while reading my laptop, and you had better be gone by the time I get home) are relying on dependable distribution of our content. Our livelihood, and our ability to communicate in an honest, fair and timely fashion, is contingent on a free and open internet.

But The FCC, in a brazen and openly partisan way, has just removed the mechanisms that guarantee our ability to reliably and effectively communicate online. The three Republican appointees voted for repeal, while the two Democratic appointees not only voted against it but also begged the general public to help the FCC save it from itself. Proponents of repeal call net neutrality “a solution in search of a problem.” I call them “lackeys to the corporate overlords who want to police what you say and control how and when you can say it.”

If that sounds paranoid, consider that just before Christmas, the Center for Disease Control banned its budget grant writers from using the words “vulnerable,” “entitlement” “diversity,” “fetus,” “transgender,” “science-based” and “evidence-based.” Think about that for a moment – not just that they banned words, but the actual words they banned, from documents pertaining to the funding of scientific research – and tell me your calendar doesn’t resemble 2018 so much as it resembles 1984. (I never thought I’d write a sentence like that without it seeming paranoid or hyperbolic, but… here we are.)

The question that feels most pressing is “How could the federal government allow the CDC to ban these seven words?” But the truly pressing question is, “What are the next seven?” Perhaps the question after that might be, “Where will the word police strike next?” And, most chillingly, “For how much longer will we be able to publish blogs written to protest this kind of terrifying authoritarianism?”

While it appears that we’re on the verge of finding out, we’re also not without weapons of our own. One is that attorneys general across the country are readying their legal challenges to the repeal of net neutrality. Another is by using our voices and our votes. Elected representatives like to talk about The American People, but many have forgotten that they don't deserve our voites, they have to earn them. These people work for us, and much as many of them would like us to forget that, we hired them and we can fire them. To paraphrase “The West Wing,” it's really something that every two years we get to overthrow the government, and we damn well better show up in 2018 to get the one we need and the one that this country deserves.

So let’s give them the job review they deserve, call them out to get their perspectives on these issues, and decide whether or not they continue to get the privilege of working for us. And yes, I know, in the wake of the recent tax law there is every reason to be cynical about participating in the public conversation with our elected reps. But as “The American President” reminds us, “America is advanced citizenship; you gotta want it bad, because it’s gonna put up a fight. “I still believe that after the punch in the face that was 2017, 2018 is where the real resistance begins. Your elected officials are eminently reachable by email and phone (click here to find yours). And we’ll be seeing them face to face on March 13 for National Arts Advocacy Day (you can come too -- click here to find out how). We have opportunities to act – to let them know how devastating the repeal of net neutrality and the passage of the new tax laws are to the millions of us who work in a field that generates billions of dollars of economic activity (not to mention even more billions in tax revenue that goes to our federal, state and local governments). Our work is alive in every congressional district in this country, and those that want to kill it had better take heed: 2017 might have been their year, but 2018 is ours.

Pass it on.

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