Friday, September 7, 2007

The Freedom of the Internet

The freedom of internet access and use is at risk. In the near future you will not be able to access most of the websites you visit daily, unless these websites pay a premium to Internet Service providers, such as AT&T, Time-Warner and Comcast. Your high speed internet will not apply to any site you go to, but only those chosen by your Cable Company or Internet Service Provider (ISP). What does that mean? Myspace might not be accessible, or become very slow unless you pay for service from the News Corporation. This is not a warning, this is already happening, and the Internet needs our help.

If you are not yet familiar with the term "Net-Neutrality" this is nothing new; bloggers, active citizens, websites, and activists have been trying to bring attention to the topic for years. According to "When we log onto the Internet, we take lots of things for granted. We assume that we'll be able to access whatever website we want, whenever we want to go there. We assume that we can use any feature we like; watching videos online, listening to podcasts, searching for information, emailing, and instant messaging, anytime we choose. We also assume that we can attach devices like wireless routers, game controllers, or extra hard drives to make our online experience better.
What makes all these assumptions possible is "Network Neutrality," the guiding principle that ensures the Internet remains free and unrestricted. Net Neutrality prevents the companies that control the wires bringing you the Internet from discriminating against content based on its ownership or source. But that could all change.

The biggest cable and telephone companies would like to charge money for smooth access to Web sites, speed to run applications, and permission to plug in external devices. These network conglomerates believe they should be able to charge website operators, application providers, and device manufacturers for the right to use the network. Those who don't make a deal and pay up will experience discrimination: Their sites won't load as quickly, their applications and devices won't work as well. Without legal protection, consumers could find that a network operator has blocked the website of a competitor, or slowed it down so much that it's unusable.
The network owners say they want a "tiered" Internet. If you pay to get in the top tier, your site and your service will run fast. If you don't, you'll be in the slow lane."
What does all this mean? Well, say for instance you hate Myspace and prefer Facebook. If you are a Cox Cable subscriber and Facebook doesn't pay Cox money to host the site, you won't be able to access the site from your home computer. Or perhaps Fox News (The News Corp.) and Time-Warner have a partnership, if you have internet access from Time-Warner (Roadrunner) you won't be able to go to ABC, The New York Times, or NBC for news. Basically your Internet will become limited, and you will be restricted access to the sites you want to go to.

"The nation's largest telephone and cable companies, including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner, want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which websites go fast or slow and which won't load at all.
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. Congress is now considering a major overhaul of the Telecommunications Act. The telephone and cable companies are filling up congressional campaign coffers and hiring high-priced lobbyists. They've set up "Astroturf" groups like "Hands Off the Internet" to confuse the issue and give the appearance of grassroots support.

On June 8, the House of Representatives passed the "Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006," or COPE Act (H.R. 5252) -- a bill that offers no meaningful protections for Net Neutrality. An amendment offered by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), which would have instituted real Net Neutrality requirements, was defeated by intense industry lobbying.
It now falls to the Senate to save the free and open Internet. Fortunately, Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) have introduced a bipartisan measure, the "Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2006" (S. 2917), that would provide meaningful protection for Net Neutrality.
On June 28, the Snowe-Dorgan bill was introduced as an amendment to Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-Alaska) major rewrite of the Telecom Act (S.2686) [now HR.5252]. The committee split down the middle on the measure, casting a tie vote of 11-11.
Though meaningful Net Neutrality protections were not added to Stevens' bill, the fight for Internet freedom is gaining serious momentum as the bill moves toward the full Senate later this year. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has threatened to place a "hold" on the entire legislation unless it reinstates Net Neutrality and prevents discrimination on the Internet.

What can you do? Like any other important issue, you can write your congressman, and hope they read it, you can go to hundreds of informational sites such as and sign Internet petitions and hope that your name does something. Or perhaps more realistic, you can talk about it. Ask your friends if they have heard about it. Bring up net-neutrality in random discussions, be a net nerd. We are a generation defined by electronic, available, and most importantly, free media.


No comments: