Friday, April 30, 2010

NO Neutrality on Net Neutrality

John Hodgman - "The point is, with net neutrality, all of these packets whether they come from a big company or just a single citizen are treated in the exact same way."

Jon Stewart - "So, what's the debate? That actually seems quite fair."

John Hodgman - "Yes. Almost TOO fair. It's as though the richer companies get no advantage at all."

The Short of It
  • I know, I know
  • One more thing to be outraged about?
  • Perhaps we should be outraged that we have to BE outraged.
  • But before we get too tired here's one more thing
  • Net neutrality is the future of the internet and your nonprofit
  • And it's still under attack
The Long of It

Your strategic mission won't mean a damn thing if you can't use the internet to get it to your members.

Can't use the internet? Whaaaaa'?

Don't believe me?  Listen to the Chairman of the FCC - Julius Genachowski and his recent comments regarding open access and how important it is.

Then - even if you don't read another word of this blog post - sign this petition to the FCC from the Nonprofit Community .

I wanted to get that out of the way.

Now, I've been following net neutrality for a long time. It's not a new issue. Big Telecom has been at it almost since the inception of the internet. Back in 2006 the Daily Show did a classic bit with Jon Hodgman referenced above that is still good for a chuckle albeit a nervous one when contemplating what it really means.

Here is the gist.  Right now, internet providers provide access to the internet.  That overall access speed has increased with the advent of T1, cable, etc.  What Big Telecom has been unable to do so far is control the speed in which all things travel on the internet, they only control how fast you can get to it.  So, if you have a slow connection, your internet is slow. But ALL sites you visit are slow. If you have a fast connection, your internet is fast. But ALL sites you visit are fast.

Big Telecom has been challenging this notion of "fairness" for years.  Corporate America wants to control not only access speed to the internet, but how fast things can move on the internet.  This will give them the ability to control what you can see and hear. Here are two great videos that explain how they plan to do that - What IS Net Neutrality? and Net Neutrality.

Here is why this matters so much.

Nonprofits, particularly those who engage in political activity, stand to lose their ability to use the internet effectively for advocacy. Those who argue corporations won't limit political speech for fear of alienating their customers are cute in their naivete, but wrong. Verizon was caught challenging NARAL back in 2007 from sending text messages to their members regarding women's reproductive health issues and although they reversed themselves, the damage was done.  Did anyone hear about the advertising kerfuffle during the SuperBowl recently?

Did anyone see the recent Citizens United vs FEC SCOTUS decision?  Uh, where corporations earned the "same rights" as individuals to engage in political speech? To make unlimited expenditures on behalf of candidates and causes? How about the influence they can potentially wield to ensure their messages are moving faster on the internet than ours?

The risks we run at passively accepting the demise of net neutrality are huge. I can't print 10,000 yard signs, but I can get involved online and so can my association's members. But not if we can't get to the sites we need to get to.

Recently, on April 6, 2010, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Comcast and against the Federal Communications Commission. Read about the decision here .  The FCC only has a few options to act.
  • Do nothing and hope for the best
  • Wait for Congress to act (don't hold your breath - they seem to be a little busy right now).
  • Attempt to reclassify broadband services so they fall squarely within their regulatory structure.

What can we do? Well, a few things. We need to take action and stay informed. The decisions on regulatory reclassification are coming within weeks. Maybe even before this post gets out there.

1) Send a message to Chairman Julius Genachowski of the FCC - to express your support for Net Neutrality. Affirm your support for his efforts to stop Big Telecom. As recently as May 3, 2010 he was quoted as saying he may be abandoning plans to reclassify broadband.  We need to step up the pressure.
2) Visit and follow their reporting on this issue
3) Visit and follow them as well
4) Visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Thanks to NTEN for hosting open, no charge conference calls on this issue. You can stream the recent conference call they had here.   There are some really smart, really dedicated folks working on this issue.  When I hear about activities, I will tweet them so if you don't already follow me on twitter, go ahead and do so at @shellyalcorn. If NTEN has any more calls, I encourage you to dial in and participate.

The FCC is about to rule. The courts are not our friends.  Big Telecom isn't either.  It will take a concerted effort to protect net neutrality.

Non profits have a lot to lose.

Please.  Engage.  Now.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How the Mighty Fall - Associations at Risk - Part 5 of 5

(This is the last in a five-part series and a break from my normal format. During times of economic crisis many questions haunt executives, boards, staff members and volunteers alike. How will we weather this storm? How long will it last? How are our members being affected? Will this signal a decline for our organization? How will we know for sure and what can we do about it? In his most recent work, How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, Jim Collins posits five signs of an organization at risk of or beginning the descent into chaos, decline and - at the very worst - destruction. This five-part series will take a look at each of the main stages identified by Jim Collins and relate them to issues you may be facing as association professionals.)

The Fifth Stage of Decline – Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death

We have already taken a look at the first four stages of decline – hubris born of success, the undisciplined pursuit of more, denial of risk and peril and grasping for salvation.  Assuming an association struggling with the prior stages was able to make adjustments and rational choices, then perhaps Stage 5 will have been avoided. However, associations that experience the prior stages without remedy are likely facing the final stages described below.

Jim Collins narrows it down to three common paths in the end.  One path leads the organization to contract until it reaches a certain stasis point and then it limps along as a mere shadow of its former self. The second path involves proactive management of organizational demise, selling off assets and intentionally shutting down. The third path points to, as unlikely as it may seem, recovery as if hitting bottom was what it took to revive the leadership. I believe the culture within the association will be the deciding factor in which path the leadership will choose to take.

The following are five major factors, some of which are in your control and some of which that aren’t, that may have a bearing on which direction the association is destined to go in. They are salient points that must be honestly assessed and coped with before any final determinations can be made about the association’s future.

Can We Keep the Lights On? – Cash. We may not necessarily be out of sponsors, members or even hope - but we might be out of cash. In that case, the organization faces a potential death spiral - lurching from cycle to cycle, paying what bills they can and myopically focusing on meeting short term obligations. New programs may be necessary but out of reach because of staff layoffs or lack of investment capital on hand. As cash continues to tighten, choices become narrower and the ability to provide value becomes a practical impossibility. Recovery depends on the ability to stop the spiral and recapitalize without further jeopardizing the debt-to-equity ratio.

Is It Just Our Time? – Are we actually incapable of adapting? Have we buggy whipped ourselves into oblivion? Singular focus on mission and vision is admirable – unless we picked the wrong vision in the first place. Perhaps we have prudently managed ourselves into irrelevance and failed to notice innovations happening around us? Maybe our profession has run its course and we are no longer in a position to provide anything valuable to our members? Maybe the writing is on the wall. Recovery depends on the ability to confront and to be able to make a rational case to reject those lines of reasoning.

Do We Have Hope? – The rollercoaster emotional energy of dealing with the “high” of the overly successful, screaming fast ramp-up, only to confront the disappointment and disillusion of the fall and the devastation of the aftermath can drain even the most dedicated of volunteer and staff leaders. A key quote from Jim Collins is this, “It is one thing to suffer a staggering defeat…and entirely another to give up on the values and aspirations that make a protracted struggle worthwhile.” Hope without enough cash in the bank is not enough, but enough cash in the bank without hope is deadly. Recovery depends on hope for the future – realistic or not.

What Do We Do Now? – Merger? Bankruptcy? Complete reformulation of structure and services? Selecting a new strategic vision? Consider all options. What will the world lose if we are not here? Will it lose something valuable and irreplaceable? Can the hole be filled? Is our reason for existing still powerful and compelling enough that even under excruciating circumstances the will to fight remains? Are we committed to existing, even if in a new form, with new leadership or new staff? Recovery depends on making a deep commitment to evolve and maintaining a stoic will in order to emerge from turbulence as a wiser, more resilient association.

How Do We Wrap It Up? - If all else fails, double-check the wind up and dissolve clauses in the bylaws. (Oh, and if the organization doesn’t have strong affiliate agreements with their chapters that include clear directions on what happens upon dissolution of the main entity you could be in for BIG trouble). 501(c)(3)s will need to donate remaining assets to another 501(c)(3), 501(c)(6)s have additional options such as rebates to members, etc. Get legal counsel and do it right. Just ceasing operations may not be enough to get you off the hook with the Attorney General, Secretary of State, the IRS or to head off potential lawsuits from vendors or other stakeholder groups.

Thank you for joining us as we explored the concepts surrounding how even the mightiest of organizations can fall from prominence. Our sincere hope is that you were able to take some food for thought from the stories of others experiences and apply that knowledge as appropriate in your own associations. Best to you in the years to come!