John Oliver got people to care about a really important issue and then do something about it. For this, he is my hero.
In a blistering and hilarious 13-minute take-down of the FCC's new net neutrality rule on his HBO show Last Week Tonight, he did more to advance the cause of net neutrality than anyone, including the big swinging dicks of the internet like Google, Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon who all support net neutrality. With the rule open for public comment on the FCC's website, Oliver commanded his viewers to unleash their venom at the FCC.
And unleash they did... nearly 50,000 people commented on the rule! The web traffic proved too much for the FCC's servers and the website crashed. Turns out a sizable portion of regular Americans hate the idea of giving cable companies the ability to create fast lanes for some content and slow lanes for others. Who knew? [Note: I did]. They don't buy Tom Wheeler's argument that his new rule won't created a tiered system where some get preferable service and others will not. That argument is disingenuous at best and an outright lie at worst. If you want to be simultaneously inspired and enraged, watch the video now. I'll wait...
I think it's appropriate that the call to action came not from a senator or pundit, but from an entertainer. One of the best bits in Oliver's piece is his description of how evil is best accomplished when it's hidden in something boring. How do you fight back when it's impossible to separate the reality from the legalese? How do you get people to understand the issue and rile them up enough to do something about it? Well Oliver took a note from the Jon Stewart school of Journalism... make it funny!
It's also poetic that Oliver's rant, while broadcast on HBO, didn't have this effect because of the people who subscribe to HBO. It happened because the day after his show aired, numerous news sites - open and free thanks to net neutrality - ran the video where thousands of people could watch it without fearing that they'd be charged more for that service or that the video speed would be throttled by cable companies. If that's not the single greatest argument as to why net neutrality is the most important free speech issue of our time, I don't know what is.
And it is the most important free speech issue of our time! Al Franken said so on CNN a few weeks ago! If this rule is allowed to become law, it will be the first step in allowing corporations to charge us more with impunity, to thwart the ability of artists and start-ups to make names for themselves in the marketplace. Eventually, it will allow them to decide what we can see, hear, and say. This sounds like an argument about public utilities, but it isn't; this is about freedom, pure and simple.
So do John Oliver's bidding and go to the FCC's website to tell them just how craptastic their new rule is. Keep crashing that website until Tom Wheeler gets the message that regardless of what he says his new rule will do, it will give cable companies the right to trample all over us. Stop cable company fuckery and keep the internet neutral for everyone.