Net Neutrality Fight Takes to Airwaves, Web

Aug 11, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The fight over new telecommunications legislation is moving to television sets and the Web as the cable industry and public interest groups unveil new messages to win Senate votes over the August congressional break.

Advocates who want to bar Internet-access providers from charging content providers more money for faster connections to the Web are relying on viral videos to get their message on “Net neutrality” across. The cable industry today is launching a new TV spot by Strategic Perception that says Net neutrality is bad for consumers.

“Are you Google-eyed with confusion over net neutrality?” asks the TV spot launched today by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association that features black and white silent film footage of actors rolling their eyes, money falling from the skies and a couple standing in front of a big mansion. “Net neutrality is nothing more than a scheme by the multibillion dollar Silicon Valley tech companies to get you the consumers to pay more for their services. Forget all the mumbo jumbo, you pay”

The spot ends with a shot of a billboard: “Net neutrality is bad for consumers.”

The viral video, which Yahoo! Inc. promoted on its video site, featured a song-and-dance routine starring Leslie Hall, a Web mini-celebrity, Jay “Tron Guy” Maynard and Randy “Peter Pan Constan. The video, hosted on www.wearetheweb.com, was produced by digital ad agency Space150 in Minneapolis.

“Wake up everybody. Stop sleeping,” the actors sing on the clip. “They want to charge more. Big companies are creeping into our Internet. The Net’s in distress let’s answer the S.O.S.”

Another viral song video being distributed by proponents of legislation to protect Net neutrality is found at http://www.savetheinternet.com/broadband.html.

“God Save the Internet” features lyrics such as: “Hey Mr. Telecom man, God save the Internet. Don’t change my reality, keep Net neutrality.”

The fight comes as Net neutrality emerges as the biggest hang up to legislation which would allow phone companies to more easily offer cable services without going city by city for franchise rights. It also would let cable providers more easily offer phone service.

Net neutrality proponents, among them Google Inc., Amazon.com, Microsoft Corp. and consumer groups, want the legislation to include a requirement for Net neutrality. Phone companies building new high speed networks want the ability to start charging content providers to pay some of the costs of maintaining the Web.

Traditionally that fight would be fought with lobbying and public policy ads, but as is becoming increasingly common, the fight is also being waged on the Internet.

“These videos — especially viral ones like this one — work and work very well,” said Maura Corbett, spokesperson for the It’s Our Net Coalition. “They break through the propaganda from the other side and explain Net neutrality in simple terms that cause people to stand up and pay attention — the proverbial “Ah-ha!” moment.”

Ben Goddard, who produced the groundbreaking Harry & Louise TV spot that 12 years ago rewrote the rules of lobbying and added advertising as a weapon, said the Net neutrality fight may do the same for viral videos.

Mr. Goddard, president of Goddard Claussen, said swaying congressional votes isn’t easy, but the viral efforts have an advantage in that much of the Congressional staff is younger and more likely to notice it.

“A large portion of the audience are staffers on the Hill and they don’t read hard copy anymore,” Mr. Goddard said. “They are on the Web. It’s the kind of thing that might work because it’s in such stark contrast. Most of the print [from Net neutrality opponents] is totally confusing.”