The Threat Is Real
Congress is pushing a law that would abandon the Internet's First
Amendment -- a principle called "Network neutrality" that prevents
companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from deciding which Web sites
work best for you -- based on what site pays them the most. Your local
library shouldn’t have to outbid Barnes & Noble for the right to have
its Web site open quickly on your computer.
Net Neutrality allows everyone to compete on a level playing field and
is the reason that the Internet is a force for economic innovation,
civic participation and free speech. If the public doesn't speak up
now, Congress will cave to a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign by
telephone and cable companies that want to decide what you do, where
you go, and what you watch online.
This isn’t just speculation -- we've already seen what happens
elsewhere when the Internet's gatekeepers get too much control. Last
year, Canada's version of AT&T -- Telus -- blocked their Internet
customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to workers with whom
Telus was negotiating. And Shaw, a major Canadian cable company,
charges an extra $10 a month to subscribers who dare to use a
competing Internet telephone service.
How would the gutting of Network Neutrality affect you?
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.
Political groups—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.
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
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.
Corporate control of the Web would reduce your choices and stifle the
spread of innovative and independent ideas that we've come to expect
online. It would throw the digital revolution into reverse. Internet
gatekeepers are already discriminating against Web sites and services
they don't like:
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 contentious labor dispute.
Shaw, a major Canadian cable TV company, is charging an extra $10 a
month to subscribers who want to use a competing Internet telephone
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.
This is just the beginning. Cable and telco giants want to eliminate
the Internet's open road in favor of a tollway that protects their
status quo while stifling new ideas and innovation. If they get their
way, they'll shut down the free flow of information and dictate how
you use the Internet.