Celebrating Internet Freedom throughout the U.S.
Earlier this week I attended the Celebration of Internet Freedom event organized by CEA in Washington D.C., which i2Coalition co-sponsored. The celebration included a viewing of the documentary Silicon Prairie: America’s New Internet Economy produced by is produced by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. I recently saw the film when I attended CES a few weeks ago.
Comparing the reception of Silicon Prairie in Washington, to that in Las Vegas at CES was the most interesting part of the event for me. In Las Vegas, the documentary was presented as part of CES’ policy track. Attendees were mostly people who “get” the Internet. The audience in D.C. was similar, but the vibe was different. From my perspective, the audience in D.C. was more receptive. The audience in D.C. felt more empathetic to the message of the documentary, that Internet innovation takes place everywhere, but that the Internet itself is fragile.
I speculate that the reason for the empathy is two-fold: people in D.C. are used to hearing that they don’t make anything, and that the economy of the country takes place elsewhere. The documentary’s message that innovation and economic power, exist everywhere because of the Internet, would likely strike a chord with D.C. audiences.
The second is that D.C. audiences have deep experience in regulatory matters, and understand the laws of unintended consequences when it comes to the exercise of the legislative and regulatory function. Rather than a “hands off the Internet” vibe that I typically hear following discussions similar to those that followed the documentary, those that followed in D.C. tended to include thoughts on how the growth of the Internet could be strengthened by Washington, and ways that regulatory policy that was not directly Internet focused could end up undermining the Internet economy.
A great example of this was the discussion that followed AgLocal’s discussion about its looming battle with large food distributors. Gary Shapiro’s comment “just wait until you try to start selling unpasteurized milk,” perfectly captured the audience difference between the two showings.