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In early 2003, a former governor of Vermont threw his hat in the ring as a long-shot contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. With limited name recognition and without funds to run a national campaign, Howard Dean's chances seemed slim at best.

That's when grassroots supporters -- passionate about Howard Dean's opposition to the Iraq War -- self-organized on the relatively new "Internet" and catapulted his candidacy into the national spotlight. Utilizing this revolutionary medium to communicate with each other online, people across the country inspired by the Dean for America campaign transformed the political process practically overnight. Volunteers, bloggers, and small donors connected through the Internet, and very nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in presidential campaign history -- which became the genesis for the founding of Democracy for America in 2004.

Simply put, the Internet made the impossible possible. As a space in which diverse voices can be expressed and grassroots movements can mobilize quickly, the Internet levels the political playing field. The rapid sharing of ideas and the ability to potentially reach a huge audience with nothing but a computer and an Internet connection empowers anyone to let their voice be heard. For now.

Big corporations like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon want to control what you see online. They want to charge content providers, like Netflix or YouTube, for carrying their traffic. That violates the FCC's policy of Net Neutrality, a cornerstone of Internet freedom. Net Neutrality simply means that all data is to be treated equally, without content being favored or discriminated against based on ability to pay. Without Net Neutrality, Governor Dean couldn't have built a people-powered presidential campaign online -- and DFA would not exist.

On May 15, the Federal Communications Commission is going to consider a proposal that would destroy Net Neutrality and allow the big telecoms to charge extra for carrying content. Let’s be clear, Net Neutrality is about more than paying extra to stream your favorite show on Netflix. It's about preserving the last free, equal, and open forum in our democracy.

Taken to an extreme, their actions could result in political bloggers, news outlets, and even organizations like DFA being silenced because the powers that be don't like our message -- or because we can't pay their sky-high rates.

We've already seen the wealthy try to take control of our democracy. Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon have changed the rules of campaign finance, heavily favoring rich donors at the expense of people like you and me.

The corporate attack on Net Neutrality is driven by the same billionaires, for the same reasons. The Internet has been crucial to building progressive power in America. Without it, we would have been defeated by corporate cash long ago. The billionaires want to control the Internet and tilt the playing field in their favor. They want the Internet to be like television, where only those who can afford to spend a lot of money are able to deliver their message.

The Internet thrives as a medium for political discourse -- and as a way to level the playing field between the 1% and the 99% -- because it is free and open. It doesn't matter how much money you make or how many lobbyists you can hire. If you can come up with a good idea or a compelling message, it can spread online.

It's this same openness that has made the Internet a medium for growth and job creation among 21st century industries, keeping thousands of Americans employed at the same time as many sectors of our economy are shedding jobs. That's why one of the most effective ways to go on offense against income inequality is to take action to save a free and open internet.

We still have time to fight back against corporate control, to protect the free and open nature of the Internet, and its potential for innovation. Please join us in telling FCC commissioners to save Net Neutrality before the agency's May 15 meeting.

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