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Saturday, July 15, 2006

It Happened to Jane: The 1959 Movie about Net Neutrality anyone can understand

It Happened to Jane (1959) with Doris Day, Jack Lemmon, and Ernie Kovacs. A tycoon buys the only railroad going through a small Maine town. A local widow (Day) tries to get her live lobsters to market, but the railroad downgrades her shipments, letting lobsters die before they get to their customers. Despite the railroad's dozens of high powered lawyers, Doris Day wins in small claims court. When the railroad won't pay, she seizes a train, and starts a PR campaign against them that includes radio, television game shows, newspaper reports, and the like. The railroad retaliates by cutting off passenger and cargo service to their small town. The townspeople try to use the seized railcar to haul their goods, including the lobsters, to New York. But the tycoon routes the train all over New England to delay it. They intentionally congest those routes with other rail cars, start construction at chokepoints, and deny water for the steam engine to further slow down the lobsters. Will they make it to the Bronx in time for the dinner time rush? In the end, the mean tycoon's heart softens when he meets Day and her cute kids, and everyone lives happily ever after. Sound like the network neutrality issue? Big telecom incumbents abusing power. Playing favorites with routing. Delivering less than they're paid for, stopping innovation, and spending money on lawyers instead of upgrades. Unlike the movie, we don't have a Doris Day to charm "the meanest man in the world." So it comes down to congress and the FCC in the United States, and similar government organs in your country. Grassroots activism seems the only course since it's nigh on impossible to out-lobby phone and cable companies. So: What will you do for the Internet this week? How will you defend your right to call unimpeded? And in private? Who will you call?

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