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Barbershop Punk

Robb Topolski is an unlikely crusader for free speech -- on the surface; he seems to be a mild-mannered geek with a fondness for a capella music. However, when Topolski tried to upload some rare recordings of barbershop quartets to a peer-to-peer file sharing website in 2007, he found that his broadband Internet connection slowed down to a tiny fraction of its usual speed.

Topolski, who worked as a computer network engineer, ran some tests to find out what was happening and made a surprising discovery -- his internet service provider was monitoring the web use of its customers and using software to slow connections for certain activities and certain websites. Topolski took his ISP to court and has become a passionate spokesman for net neutrality, believing that ISP's have no right to interfere with what their customers are doing and should not be watching their activities on line.

This case is one of the key inspirations behind the documentary BARBERSHOP PUNK, which explores how a small number of powerful corporations have the power to control the World Wide Web, and what ordinary people can do to promote the free exchange of information in cyberspace.

Featuring interviews with Ian MacKaye, Janeane Garofalo, Damian Kulash of OK Go, Henry Rollins, Mike McCurry, John Perry Barlow, Jonathan Adelstein and many more.

'Barbershop Punk is a superb and powerful introduction to the main struggle over the battle for the control of the Internet--network neutrality. The film masterfully translates complex issues into fundamental political, social and personal terms. It provides ample room for all sides of the debate, while making a clear argument. Highly entertaining, this is a perfect film for students and concerned citizens.' Robert W. McChesney, Professor of Communication, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, co-Founder, Free Press, co-Author, The Death and Life of American Journalism

'This documentary is about one of the most important episodes in the history of the Internet--how a guy nobody had ever heard of, a Barbershop Quartet enthusiast named Robb, awakened the world to the threat of Internet service providers asserting control over how we use the Internet. Told through the eyes of that man, it tells the broader story of how corporate bureaucracy, governmental choices, citizens groups, and everyday heroes shape the freedoms of all Americans online--from the freedom to participate fully in our democracy to the freedom to listen to the music you love, from Barbershop to punk.' Marvin Ammori, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, lead lawyer before the FCC on the Free Press vs. Comcast case

'If you think you can't find a compelling character to tell the story of net neutrality, you haven't seen Barbershop Punk, which features Robb Topolski, the geek who discovered just how cable companies mess with Internet traffic to benefit themselves.' Patricia Aufderheide, Professor of Film and Media Arts, American University, International Documentary Association newsletter

'Barbershop Punk is a wonderful--and wonderfully chilling--film. If you think you understand how media policy works in the 21st century, watch this movie and be prepared to change your mind.' C.W. Anderson, Assistant Professor, Department of Media Culture, CUNY-College of Staten Island

'Wisely, Directors Georgia Sugimura Archer and Kristin Armfield define relevant terms--from 'common carriage' to 'net neutrality'--and bring both sides into play...recommended.' Video Librarian

'[A] David vs. Goliath victory of the computer geek over the powerful corporation...A good introduction to an important issue.' Library Journal

'Engaging, provocative...It's noteworthy when nemeses like the Christian Coalition and the group Naral Pro-Choice are on the same side of the Net-neutrality fence...It's an Orwellian corporatocracy we live in, with our Web-surfing habits monitored, and bought and sold like commodities. If you're reading this online, someone, or something, is probably tracking you.' Andy Webster, The New York Times

'As the entertainment industry focuses on piracy, Barbershop Punk helps to clarify the distinction between copyright protection in the digital marketplace and Internet access. It furthers a momentous policy debate. After an appeals court ruling that denied the FCC authority over broadband providers, that debate is still raging.' The Hollywood Reporter

'A confrontation between one honest man - Robb Topolski, the man who first blew the whistle on Comcast's abuse of Deep Packet Inspection - and a whole legal and regulatory system.' Milton Mueller, Professor, School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, Author, Networks and States: The Global Politics of Internet Governance

'A well-constructed and articulate look at the problem of net neutrality...Barbershop Punk does a great job of presenting the topic and manages to avoid partisan issues while doing so...It is a social action documentary, but it does not call for the implementation of any new policy directives. In fact the film is a plea to maintain the protections of free speech on the internet by preventing economic interference...This film is best applied in mass communications and media courses that have an emphasis on `new media' and legal issues.' Troy Belford, Anthropology Reviews Database

'Barbershop Punk reminds us not only that our society hasn't really decided what the internet is supposed to be, but also that the final verdict on the matter may rest with those who stand to benefit most from that crucial definition.' Tiny Mix Tapes

'Unless an informed citizenry acts, they can turn the Internet into a commercial and politically sanitized medium just as they have done already to radio and television...Stay vigilant!' Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist

'Does a great job of explaining a subject which I've long had difficulty understanding...The material is presented in a clear, concise manner by all of the interviewees, and Barbershop Punk should be of interest to anyone concerned with the ethics of commerce and its impact on free speech.' Tony Dayoub, Cinema Viewfinder

'An excellent documentary that explains net neutrality very well...Archer and Armfield have done an amazing job...Barbershop Punk [needs] to be viewed by as many people as possible.' Terra King,

'The urgency of this complex and far-reaching issue, coupled with the undeniable appeal of the Everyman story that triggered the debate, will propel Punk to harmonious fest exposure and tenacious afterlife.' Variety

'Takes what might seem to be a smaller issue and exposes the slippery slope where individual companies are allowed to decide what travels across their wires. Activists, punk rockers, Christians, Pro-Choicers, old ladies, and mild-mannered barbershop quartet fans alike come together to protect our first amendment rights.' Huffington Post

'Barbershop as timely as a documentary gets.' South by Southwest Film Festival Program

'Worth singing about. An important topic.' Express from the Washington Post

'Politics takes on interesting bedfellows in Barbershop Punk...But [this] is much more than a series of voices taking sides in the debate over internet neutrality. At its core, the film is about one man taking on the system.' Ruth Robertson, Indymedia

'Fascinating...examines how Net Neutrality can preserve freedom of speech and the idea that the Internet is a meritocracy where a little guy with a good idea, or a great video of kittens doing wacky things, can succeed.' Birmingham Weekly

'While it is bound to stir up legitimate debate over concerns surrounding protection of the free market, media consolidation and 'Big Brother,' Barbershop Punk manages to navigate the complex Net Neutrality waters perfectly, while still remaining an affirming and deeply relevant snapshot of our time.' SILVERDOCS Blog

'The directors offer a lively, fact-filled look into the net-neutrality movement, its implications, and how one guy with a little curiosity and know-how discovered a major corporation was sticking its nose in a place where many believe it doesn't belong.' SideReel Review

'Barbershop Punk shows that critical thinking is not only for academics but also for ordinary people, by portraying a change in the attitude towards companies and their practices in the US.' Nisimagazine


Main credits

Archer, Georgia Sugimura (screenwriter)
Archer, Georgia Sugimura (film director)
Archer, Georgia Sugimura (film producer)
Armfield, Kristin (film producer)
Armfield, Kristin (film director)

Other credits

Director of photography, Amy Sharp; editor and co-producers, Matt Kregor, Jose Pulido; composer, Peter Golub.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

American Democracy
American Studies
Business Practices
Citizenship and Civics
Civil Rights
Free Press
Media Literacy
Science, Technology, Society


internet service providers, restrictions on consumers' access to the Internet, Robb Topolski, free speech, peer-to-peer file sharing, P2P, internet, ISP, net neutrality, world wide web, free exchange of information, cyberspace, Ian MacKaye, Janeane Garofalo, Henry Rollins, Damian Kulash, OK Go, FCC, Mike McCurry, Jonathan Adelstein, John Perry Barlow, Ben Scott, Rick Carnes, Scott Cleland, Rep. Chip Pickering, ; Rep. Marsha Blackburn,"Barbershop Punk",Bullfrog Films

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