Mike Ohleger first heard about “net neutrality” in 2011, a buzzword thrown around while he studied computer science at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
As he neared his retirement from active duty in the Marine Corps in 2016, Ohleger said he wanted to find a hobby. Since he enjoyed beer, he decided he’d try his luck at making his own.
While he didn’t think about net neutrality all that much while in postgraduate school—other than scanning headlines about the topic—in just a few years net neutrality would become intertwined with his passion: home brewing.
Ohleger bottled his first home-brewed beer in June 2016–the same day the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the 2015 Open Internet Order, which enshrined net neutrality, despite a push from the telecom industry to squash it.
On that day, Ohleger said, “Net Neutrality Brewing” was born.
“Between communications and computer science, I wanted to do something with my beer that kind of had a computer ring to it,” Ohleger told the Daily Dot. “When you make beer, if it’s good you want to name it… as it turned out, the day that I brewed my first beer was the same day that the Court of Appeals had held up the net neutrality law. Being a computer guy, I’m like ‘that would be a perfect name for a brewery.'”
What started with just a Mr. Beer kit, has slowly grown into a more expansive set up—with Ohleger getting a new piece of equipment each month leading up to his retirement.
Three years later, Net Neutrality Brewing is still a (very) small endeavor–a personal labor of love run entirely on Ohleger’s passion for brewing beer and coming up with computer-adjacent names for his brews.
His home brews have a Facebook page where Ohleger will show off the process of him making his beers, but right now, only a handful of friends and acquaintances get to taste them.
Ohleger has brewed nine different types of beer with names that make references to all kinds of computer jargon.
There’s “Black Screen of Death Smoked Vanilla Porter,” “Y2K Imperial Red Ale,” “Cold War, Dark Web Imperial Russian Stout,” “TCP/IP(A),” and “Dial Up Pale Ale,” among others.
The names of his beers are put on labels on his Facebook page that have “Net Neutrality Brewing” spelled out in ASCII, hex code, or binary.
While the name Net Neutrality Brewing may have been spur of the moment, it may have been more forward thinking than Ohleger initially believed.
Reflecting on it during a discussion with the Daily Dot last month, Ohleger said he sees similarities between net neutrality—the idea that all internet traffic should be treated equally—the broadband industry, and the world he dabbles in now: craft beer.
Smaller craft beer companies are being acquired by larger more established brand-name ones. After that purchase, the larger companies decide where those beers can be sold to customers.
In some ways, Ohleger said, its similar to genesis of net neutrality: where a lack of rules could lead to customers seeing slower internet speeds to websites for companies that aren’t forking over money to ISPs.
In essence, without net neutrality rules, it opens up the possibility of bigger companies being able to decide who sees what online—a fear net neutrality advocates have raised in the wake of the FCC repealing the rules.
“The way that distribution is done, they’re really pushing where they make the most money from,” he said. “If they’re going to make more money from Budweiser than they are going to make from Stone, they are going to distribute more Budweiser or Miller, or Coors, or anything like that. If you look at it from that aspect, it’s very synonymous, in my opinion, to net neutrality.”
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“If you look at it that way, with net neutrality, the fact that traffic is not limited and we should be able to stream or do whatever we want on the internet or on the network. And you look at that in comparison to big companies and big businesses like Budweiser … where the smaller companies and smaller people are trying to survive.”
As for the current fight over net neutrality, Ohleger said he didn’t think the FCC’s repeal “was the right thing to do” and believes that a level playing field online is what can make or break a small business.
He isn’t alone in that thought. Hundreds of small businesses have signed petitions to members of Congress explaining why net neutrality is important to them.
Now, the Save the Internet Act—a bill that would undo the FCC’s repeal and reinstate the 2015 Open Internet Order—faces an uncertain fate in the Senate after passing in the House of Representatives.
In the future, Ohleger said he hopes what is now his hobby could sprawl into something bigger.
It’s a personal endeavor now, but the Virginia resident said the first steps toward a more robust future might be entering his computer-named beers into festivals or contests.
“I wouldn’t be averse to, within the next year or so, entering one of my beers into a competition of some sort,” he said. “There’s still a lot that I need to learn about brewing … Every time I brew I learn something new.”
But perhaps a decade from now Net Neutrality Brewing could morph from a personal set up in a garage into a something like a taproom, or maybe Ohleger could start distributing his beer to stores around the country.
“We always want to do what we enjoy doing, right? I’m 45 years old and I still play soccer because it’s something I grew up with and something that I love. Brewing? It’s getting to the point where I’m always thinking of what my next beer is going to be, and what the next one’s going to be after that, and the next one after that,” Ohleger said.
“At some point, yeah, I’d love to go to a bigger set up, a bigger operation. I think with any hobby you get into, as soon as you get used to doing it your way, you always want to go bigger and better. I think if 10 years down the road if this is still a passion of mine, something I still enjoy doing, and if I can repeat recipes—and they’re just as good or if not better than the previous then— absolutely I’d love to bottle it, get a liquor license and distribute it if I could, open a tap house. I don’t know. It’s definitely something I’d consider years on down the road.”
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