Save Net Neutrality; Net Neutrality Saves Lives

Dr. Richard L. Benkin


In 2003, I received an email from a Bangladeshi journalist bemoaning the biased coverage of Israel in his country.  As a journalist, he wanted to change that; and he asked me if I could help, which I did.  I connected him to a wider array of news sources and information; he helped get me published in Bangladesh.  We worked together for months, generated a lot of interest both positive and negative, and even attracted the Prime Minister’s attention.  Unfortunately, it attracted the attention of others, as well.  One day, as he was about to board a plane for Bangkok and eventually Tel Aviv, the authorities grabbed him.  They ransacked his belongings, stole valuables, and secreted him away for hours in a dark, cramped cell with neither food nor water.  By the time they moved him to the Dhaka Central Jail, word of his seizure had gotten out and supporters gathered the airport.  My friend saw his brother in the crowd and yelled to him:  “Call Dr. Benkin in America; ask him to save me.”


How can you turn your back on that?  I knew I had to do something, but what?  I had never done anything like this before.  So, I did what I knew and went back to my computer.  I set up a web site and connected with others through theirs.  That allowed me to gain enough of a following to make this a pretty big issue; and with the help of former Senator (then Congressman) Mark Kirk, I was able to free him after 17 months of torture and imprisonment for blasphemy.  Since then, I have been successful in several other human rights endeavors, and am now fighting to stop the persecution of millions of Hindus in Bangladesh and Baloch and Sindhi Muslims in Pakistan.


None of it would have been possible, however, without net neutrality:  the principle that owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet should not control how consumers lawfully use that network, and they should not be able to discriminate against content provider access to that network.  That is, it keeps Internet service providers from charging fees for better service; fees, many fear, that smaller users like me will not be able to afford, and which will favor large companies and limit the content that people see.


Governments generally believe they can get away with human rights violations because people either won’t know about them or care enough to do something; and I had neither the influential voice nor the wealth to change the Bangladeshis’ calculations.  But I did have an inexpensive way to strengthen that voice and reach millions of people who might be able to act.  The internet allowed me to tell my story and get others involved.  If my site was too slow, they would not have kept coming to it; if it was too expensive, I could not have started it.  It is only because of an internet that made my site the equal of the major media—left and right—that I was able to free this political prisoner.


All of that, however, is in serious jeopardy; and we have only a limited time to act.  On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to approve FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to repeal net neutrality.  Without net neutrality, providers will be able to charge fees to customers for faster


You don’t make money doing human rights work—and you really shouldn’t or people question your motives.  (They do anyway, but this way, there is no substance to back up their suspicions.)  That means you take advantage of every low cost and free service you can.  A free and equal internet turns lone voices like mine into forces that can save lives.  An internet that does not discriminate based on wealth gives every cause a chance to compete in the marketplace of ideas.


I might be just a guy with a day job, and people like me do not have the resources of, for instance, an Amnesty International or StandWithUs; however, even for them and other human rights and not-for-profit organizations, every dollar in fees is a dollar less that goes to do the work that actually helps those who cannot help themselves.


If we inundate our lawmakers, and the FCC, with calls and faxes (letters take too long to get through security protocols and emails tend to be ignored); they will delay or stop the action.  You might target two commissioners in particular, currently yes votes for repeal, either one of whom can change the outcome.  They are Brendan Carr and Michael O’Reilly.  When Vice President Mike Pence was an Indiana Congressman, he once said that any Members of Congress or the Senate who receive five or more calls on an issue from constituents will sit up and take notice—call staff meetings and not buck the voters.  It does not matter if your lawmaker is a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative.  When I fight for human rights, I engage lawmakers of all stripes—of both parties and the multiple factions within them.  Human rights is a bi-partisan issue that touches on our basic values of freedom and equality.  So is net neutrality, and we need to let them know that.  They need to know that repealing net neutrality is a death sentence for many heroes worldwide.


Act to save net neutrality.  Act to save lives.


Dr. Richard L. Benkin is an independent human rights activist who has been called a “one man army” and “the voice of the Bangladeshi Hindus in the USA.”  His most recent book is What is Moderate Islam.