If the telecommunications companies and their allies in the U.S. Congress have their way, the bum’s cynical prophecy could soon come true. “The wide and unbounded Internet could soon be fenced in by cable and phone firms. Higher prices and less choice may lie ahead under a misguided bill moving forward in Congress,” says the San Francisco Chronicle. The New Yorker spells it out:
Until recently, companies that provided Internet access followed a de-facto commoncarriage rule, usually called “network neutrality,” which meant that all Web sites got equal treatment. Network neutrality was considered so fundamental to the success of the Net that Michael Powell, when he was chairman of the F.C.C., described it as one of the basic rules of “Internet freedom.” In the past few months, though, companies like A.T. & T. and BellSouth have been trying to scuttle it. In the future, Web sites that pay extra to providers could receive what BellSouth recently called “special treatment,” and those that don’t could end up in the slow lane. One day, BellSouth customers may find that, say, NBC.com loads a lot faster than YouTube.com, and that the sites BellSouth favors just seem to run more smoothly. Tiered access will turn the providers into Internet gatekeepers.
Fortunately, big Internet companies such as Google and Yahoo are being joined by political advocacy groups from across the political spectrum in opposing this assault on network neutrality. Here’s what’s at stake, according to MoveOn.org:
If Congress abandons Network Neutrality, who will be affected?
- Advocacy groups like MoveOn–Political organizing could be slowed by a handful of dominant Internet providers who ask advocacy groups to pay “protection money” for their websites and online features to work correctly.
- Nonprofits–A charity’s website could open at snail-speed, and online contributions could grind to a halt, if nonprofits can’t pay dominant Internet providers for access to “the fast lane” of Internet service.
- Google users–Another search engine could pay dominant Internet providers like AT&T to guarantee the competing search engine opens faster than Google on your computer.
- Innovators with the “next big idea”–Startups and entrepreneurs will be muscled out of the marketplace by big corporations that pay Internet providers for dominant placing on the Web. The little guy will be left in the “slow lane” with inferior Internet service, unable to compete.
- Ipod listeners–A company like Comcast could slow access to iTunes, steering you to a higher-priced music service that it owned.
- Online purchasers–Companies could pay Internet providers to guarantee their online sales process faster than competitors with lower prices–distorting your choice as a consumer.
- Small businesses and tele-commuters–When Internet companies like AT&T favor their own services, you won’t be able to choose more affordable providers for online video, teleconferencing, Internet phone calls, and software that connects your home computer to your office.
- Parents and retirees–Your choices as a consumer could be controlled by your Internet provider, steering you to their preferred services for online banking, health care information, sending photos, planning vacations, etc.
- Bloggers–Costs will skyrocket to post and share video and audio clips–silencing citizen journalists and putting more power in the hands of a few corporate-owned media outlets.
I’ve been blogging at least six days a week for two and a half years now, and I have never asked my readers for a penny. But now I’m asking all Via Negativa readers who are U.S. citizens to please sign the MoveOn petition.
For maximum impact, call or write your congresscritter directly (find his/her contact information here). I’ll share my own letter to my Republican congressman as soon as I receive his response. Note that the automatic email page also displays the contact information for your representative’s local office(s), if you want to save money on a toll call. Thanks!
UPDATE (8:00 p.m.): To stay abreast of developments on this issue, bookmark Save the Internet.com. Despite losing the committee vote to preserve network neutrality today, they report that
There’s a white hot firestorm on the issue on Capitol Hill. No one wants to see the telcos make a radical change to the internet and screw this medium up, except, well, the telcos. And now members of Congress are listening to us. 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. Over the next few months, as the public wakes up, we’ll close the rest of it.