Save the Internets
The opposition is taking their usual stand: there's no issue, let's just ignore it. They claim that net neutrality will hamper research and development and leave consumers with fewer choices. Sound familiar? That's what they said before the Ma Bell monopoly was broken up decades ago. Do we have fewer phone service choices now, with stale technology? I think not, as new services and equipment are introduced faster than we can break or lose our cell phones, unlike the Ma Bell days when a brick-like rotary phone rusted before a new one was needed.
For the uninitiated, net neutrality would guarantee surfers acess to all internet content, not just the content that your internet service provider (ISP) wants you to see. Alyssa Milano puts it very succinctly:
Wal-Mart refuses to fill certain prescriptions because they are ethically against them. Why couldn’t the corporations limit our access to information they are against? They could, especially if large Internet providers like AT&T are successful in their current behind-the-scenes campaign to get Congress to gut Network Neutrality—the Internet’s First Amendment and the key to Internet freedom. Network Neutrality is the idea that all information online is treated equally, so Internet companies have to make the smallest blog just as accessible as the largest corporate website.
Network neutrality was addressed in the Markey Ammendment, which was up for vote in the House this week as part of telecommunications legislation. Unfortunately, the ammendment was defeated by a 34 - 22 vote, primarily along party lines. As expected, Republicans backed the big telcos, but the big news is that the Subcommittee on Commerce and Energy defeated Markey's last attempt 23 - 8, showing a marked shift in attitudes. Those who changed their vote this time credited the explosion of public interest in the issue.
More info on net neutrality can be found at savetheinternet.com. It explains how ISPs will be able to give preferred connections and access speeds to sponsors according to how much the sponsor pays them. As a result, those companies willing to pay more to ISPs will have a bigger presence on web surfers' PCs, virtually shutting out small business, non-profit, and amateur content providers like me.
Television, newspapers, sattelite, and cable TV are already controlled by large corporations, and show you want they want you to see. At present, the internet is unimpeded in it's content. Sure, not all of this content is good, but at least we still have a choice what we want to access. This will be gone if big business is allowed to control the internet.
AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner are spending millions lobbying congress not to sponsor net neutrality.
They want to tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data. They want to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video — while slowing down or blocking their competitors.
These companies have a new vision for the Internet. Instead of an even playing field, they want to reserve express lanes for their own content and services — or those from big corporations that can afford the steep tolls — and leave the rest of us on a winding dirt road.
On the other side are bloggers, consumer advocates, internet pioneers, and those who'll benefit from a gate-free internet like Yahoo, Google, and EBay. They've seen borderline abuses and want to prevent the slide toward corporate midsets such as these:
- In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service.
- In 2005, Canada's telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labor dispute.
- Shaw, a big Canadian cable TV company, is charging an extra $10 a month to subscribers in order to "enhance" competing Internet telephone services.
- In April, Time Warner's AOL blocked all emails that mentioned www.dearaol.com — an advocacy campaign opposing the company's pay-to-send e-mail scheme.
Although the Markey Ammendment was defeated, the fight for net neutrality is far from over, as the Communications Opportunity Enhancement Act moves to the full house for a vote. This act (referred to as COPE) favors ISPs and would affectively kill Net Neutrality in the House. However, if passed it must reconcile against Senate legislation before it can be signed into law.
Though Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) has said he supports the idea of Net Neutrality in principle, he has stopped short of endorsing putting the principle into codified law.However, Senators Olympia Snowe (R-MI), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have all introduced legislation in the Senate that would ban network providers from degrading content or creating "toll lanes" where content providers can ensure better access to their sites in exchange for paying more money.
There is still time to make your voice heard. If you value unlimited access to the internet, join with Save the Internet in letting our elected officials know we don't want the internet controlled by the telecommunications industry.
Although COPE will encompass many changes to how telecoms, cable companies, and municipalities deliver Internet services to customers, the blitz of opposition to a "tiered Internet" has brought mainstream public attention to an issue Matt Stoller says the telecoms wanted kept quiet.
"The telcos have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and many years lobbying for their position. We launched four days ago, and have closed a lot of ground," he said. "Over the next few months, as the public wakes up, we’ll close the rest of it."