When an invading army or the leaders of a coup want to assert their control over a country, the first stop is usually the local TV station. Take control of the airwaves and the rest will follow. It’s a tried and true tactic that is now changing.
Thanks to the internet, the power of controlling the traditional media is waning fast and oppressors are taking note of where the real threat lies. When the Mubarak regime in Egypt realized that the population they controlled was using the web to mobilize against them, their first move, days before their dumbass blocking of Al-Jazeera, was to cut off the internet.
While the protest movement in Egypt has blossomed into a full-blown revolution, net or no net (gotta love those guys), there is a very important issues that goes beyond this conflict. No government, corporation or any individual should be able to shut down the internet. The internet started as a person-to-person medium, a media of, for and by the people and it should always remain that way.
You know what else started that way? Radio. When it got big, it got commodified, it got taken over and it got regulated. This lead, eventually, to pirate radio. People taking over the airwaves and getting their message and music out however they could.
Remember Pump Up The Volume? You know, that early 90s movie with Christian Slater as a high school student who took on the FCC. I always found it inspirational, but lately it has seems kind of quaint. What’s the point of pirating a signal when you can pretty much put out anything you want for free?
With the internet, you control your own media, you don’t need funding, you don’t need permission. That is until your own personal Mubarak comes along and shuts you down. If this trend continues, with dictators far away and corporations closer to home, using their power to silence whomever they please, then the time has come to seriously start thinking about pirating the internet. We all hope this will never happen as the things at stake go much further then funny Youtube clips and online sudoku. The things at stake are our freedoms of speech and our principals of democracy.
Last week when Egypt pressed the off switch, they did so by ordering the ISPs under their control to cut everyone off. They didn’t touch the infrastructure. The fiber optic cables that run through the country are still in fine working condition (neighbouring countries that use those cables have full web access).
If people found a way to tap into those cables and get the net up and running again, foregoing the ISPs, then they would have found a way to pirate the web. That’s something we all may have to think about real soon.
When a medium of the masses falls under the control of the few, it may be time to Pump Up The Bandwidth.