Howard County Blog

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Congress Is in the Process of Ending the Internet as a Free Market of Ideas and Shifting it to the 18th Century Principles of Mercantilism

I know that is a strong statement and if I had not seen this proposal I would not have believed it but here is a good rundown of what is likely to be voted out of the House Commerce Committee today and what you can do about it:

The House Commerce Committee is likely to vote as early as Wednesday on legislation that would essentially hand over the keys to the Internet to the giant telcos, AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner, and Comcast.

It's hard to imagine that the Internet, that vast free-flowing world of entertainment, enlightenment, education, and interaction could be fettered, but under this legislation it very well could be. Internet service provision in the U.S. is covered by telecommunications law, and has operated under the idea of "network neutrality." In it's early years, telephone companies provided most Web service, and carried most of the traffic. Because of the nature of laws regulating phone service, Web traffic was handled just like phone traffic, each "call" being equal. That means every page you surf to on the Internet is served up just like any other, as far as your ISP is concerned. You can go from Amazon.com to Aunt Harriet's family history blog equally.

Here's
what's at stake with this legislation.

"The nation's largest telephone and cable companies -- including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner -- want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites 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. . . .

On the Internet, consumers are in ultimate control -- deciding between content, applications and services available anywhere, no matter who owns the network. There's no middleman. But without net neutrality, the Internet will look more like cable TV. Network owners will decide which channels, content and applications are available; consumers will have to choose from their menu.

The Internet has always been driven by innovation. Web sites and services succeeded or failed on their own merit. Without net neutrality, decisions now made collectively by millions of users will be made in corporate boardrooms. The choice we face now is whether people can choose the content and services they want, or whether the broadband barons will choose for them."

That does seem like so much speculation, doesn't it. But this scenario isn't unprecedented. Consider these examples from the
Save the Internet Coalition:

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 who want to use a competing Internet telephone service.

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.

Still think it's not going to happen? That these companies wouldn't dare to alienate the entire Internet-using community? Well, think about how much fun it is to deal with Comcast for your cable, and how much flexibility they're willing to offer. Also consider
this comment from Edward Whiteacre, CEO of SBC Comm., when he was asked about how concerned he was about losing ground to Internet upstarts:

"How do you think they're going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there's going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they're using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can't be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! (YHOO) or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!"

It's not about the customer, you see, it's about their profits. So if a giant retailer like Barnes and Noble wanted to screw the competition, they could pay the right ISPs, the right networks, and make sure that traffic to a site like Powells.com would run much slower. Or they could guarantee one Internet search engine that their engine would run much faster than anothers. If one of the network providers developed a music service, they could slow down your access to iTunes. Non-profits could be squeezed off of the Internet if they couldn't pay for the "fast-lane" of Internet service.

You can find out much more about the legislation, how bloggers are reacting, and how various organizations are reacting at
Save the Internet. Additionally, Matt Stoller at MyDD has been doing yeoman's work following this issue. You can see his quick run-down here.

You can also act.
Write to Congress and sign the petition.

Please make your voice heard on this before it is too late.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If a bill diminishing net neutrality passes, I expect it will only accelerate the development of wireless mesh networks, thereby hastening the obsolesence of cable and telco ISPs. Google "mesh network" and see wiki or Microsoft Research's articles.

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