The Nation website has been running an ad recently urging readers to “say no to government regulation of the internet.” Please don’t click on it. It’s a deceptive campaign created by high-priced consultants and paid for by the cable and phone industries to build opposition to the net neutrality bill. Companies like AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth and their trade associations are spending millions every week to mislead and misinform the American public through tricky ad campaigns such as these.

As the invaluable group Free Press reports, their latest attempt to hoodwink Internet users is a cutesy cartoon at www.dontregulate.org — a clever piece of industry propaganda that is riddled with half-truths and conveys a fake populist message that sounds plausible, while undermining the work of genuine public and consumer advocates.

Why, you may ask, is The Nation running the ad? The short answer is that we take ads because we’re a business that runs, in part, on advertising revenue, not because we agree with the advertiser. It’s the same answer we gave to outraged readers when we took full-page magazine ads from Fox News. (Click here to read The Nation‘s advertising policy.) My goal here isn’t to defend the policy–though I do find it legitimate and unobjectionable–but rather to try to highlight this particular ad’s devious and misleading opposition to “net neutrality”–something that The Nation magazine fully supports. (Network neutrality is simply the principle that Internet users should be able to access any web content they choose, without restrictions or limitations imposed by their Internet service provider.)

The ad, with faux populist oratory, asks readers whether they want the government regulating the internet. The answer: Of course! Without government intervention, the corporate sector will slice and dice the internet based on nothing other than maximixing profits. In practice, this would mean that a service provider could make it faster and easier to reach some websites over others, or even refuse to connect to some websites altogether. (Check out video and text dissections of the ad campaign.)

As digital democracy expert Jeff Chester wrote on The Nation‘s site, “The nation’s largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online.”

The Net Neutrality bill, introduced by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and supported by many leading Democrats as well as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other Internet giants, will help prevent that from happening. Click here to ask your reps to support the bill and check out a wide range of related resources from Save the Internet.com, where you can sign a petition (now with over 600,000 names), write to Congress, learn more about the issues at stake, and forward messages to help thwart the big Telecoms from turning the Internet into little more than a big profit center.