Net neutrality is not the first cause that comedian John Oliver has championed, and it certainly won’t be the last. Throughout his seven-plus years on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and during the first two seasons of his HBO series Last Week Tonight, Oliver has raised the profile of a number of different causes. However, it is quite possible that the biggest impact Oliver has ever had has been on the FCC’s recent ruling on net neutrality.
A week ago, in an effort to protect net neutrality, the FCC adopted new regulations that have redefined broadband internet as a Title II telecommunications service under the 1934 Communications Act. This reclassification will allow the federal government to regulate the speed of broadband.
It will essentially prohibit Internet Service Providers (ISPs), like Comcast and Verizon, from being able to provide faster service–or “fast lanes”–to those who can afford to pay more. Perhaps more importantly, it will also prohibit ISPs from blocking or slowing any traffic or from striking deals with content companies–an activity known as “paid prioritization.”
While some question whether or not the FCC has overstepped its bounds, advocates for net neutrality have applauded this move and view it as a way to keep the internet free and open for small internet companies. The thing is, up until eight months ago, not many people knew what net neutrality was, and the FCC was lining up to side with ISPs in favor of “fast lanes.”
What changed? In June of last year, John Oliver went on a now-famous 13-minute comedic rant, warning of the possible negative side effects of the FCC’s decision. That rant ultimately ended up having a lasting impact online. His YouTube video accumulated over 8 million views in the lead-up to the decision. In addition, Oliver encouraged viewers to take action through contacting the FCC’s public comment website. That call-to-action crashed the FCC’s website.
Not only was John Oliver able to raise the profile of the issue of net neutrality, he was ultimately able to change the national conversation. His ability to affect political discourse and create meaningful conversation is now shaping legislation. He is undoubtedly one of the most influential comedians on television today (and probably more impactful than most modern politicians).