Yesterday, Internet for Everyone.org brought their internet access town hall meeting to Washington DC. The meeting, which followed similar meetings in Los Angeles and Durham, NC, as well as digital town halls held online brought together a diverse group of people interested in making sure that all Americans have access to the internet.
Over the past year, InternetforEveryone.org has done a fantastic job of getting outside of Washington and getting stories from real people. These stores are about the potential for the internet to make changes in their lives. Unfortunately, right now these stories are mostly about the potential for those changes. In videos and testimonials, InternetforEveryone.org has vividly illustrated what happens when people do not have adequate internet access. Whether it is a student who needs internet access to achieve in school or a small Bed and Breakfast that needs an effective web presence to compete, InternetforEveryone.org helps to move the debate about internet access away from the theoretical and towards tangible impacts on people's lives.
The town hall format was an extension of this goal. In a series of sections, speakers took five to ten minutes to describe a specific challenge or experience associated with internet access. Next participants were broken up into small six or seven person groups, along with a facilitator. They would spend twenty to thirty minutes discussing a question associated with the speaker. Since each group had a diverse membership (for example, my group included an independent PR person, a person who coordinates state legislators, and an early network neutrality advocate, among others) they were able to generate new ideas and highlight different points of view. The results of the discussion among all of the groups were distilled. Everyone then voted for the single point that they felt was most important.
The strength of InternetforEveryone.org is its ability to bring everyday people into the internet policy discussion. Sometimes it can be hard for us here in Washington to get information about how broadband is used throughout the country. It can be especially hard to hear from people who are having trouble accessing the internet at all. Often these stories are about things that could be happening if only internet was available. Holding roundtables across the country helps prove to policymakers that internet access for everyone is a real issue that people outside of Washington care about. The more stories we have about the real harms that result from limited access to internet, the easier it is to convince the government to make Internet for Everyone a true national priority.