Here’s a riddle. What unites MoveOn.org, the Christian Coalition, Gun Owners of America, the American Library Association, SEIU, the American Civil Liberties Union, Feminist Majority, Afro-Netizen, the Forest Foundation and OutSpokane, among 773 others?
What do all of these groups have in common? They still believe in the American dream, that everyone who works hard and has a great idea should get a real shot at making it outrageously big like the founders of Google, EBay and YouTube.
Perhaps more importantly, they all benefit from Net Neutrality.
Net Neutrality is the principle that has been behind the operation of the internet from the very beginning: that all data traveling on the information superhighway is treated equally, without regard to what that data is, who posted it, or who is trying to access it.
In June 2006 the U.S. House of Representatives voted against Net Neutrality. This is the first of a ����’one-two" punch delivered to the hopes and dreams of the little guy. The second punch is still pending from the U.S. Senate. The result of the Senate vote may prove to be the final blow to what, at this writing, is still an open and equal internet.
Currently individuals, not corporations, produce 60 percent of the content on the internet. In no other mass communication system do we have that dynamic. It’s refreshing, vibrant, unpredictable, and raw. And until 2005, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) relaxed protections that ensured nondiscrimination in web access, it was virtually guaranteed to stay that way.
The back story: In the beginning, the internet ran over telephone wires. Because of this, it was regulated by the same rules that regulated telephone usage. The common carrier rules required openness and equality for all telecommunications traffic, without preference, without discrimination.
The technicality: Since the method of accessing the internet has changed, the rules of the game have been discarded. The common-carrier rules do not apply to cable and satellite high-speed (broadband) internet access.
What changed: In the summer of 2005, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) relaxed protections that ensured nondiscrimination in web access.
Foot in the door: Telecom companies announced their plan to create a tiered program of paid access to the net, similar to paying different rates for different cell phone plans.
Now the telecommunications companies are lobbying our government to end their open access requirements.
Toll booth (tier) system:With the rules of the game formally discarded, the telecommunications companies plan to charge different rates for different levels of service. Those who have websites could be required to pay extra fees so that visitors can reach them on the fast lane. Those that can’t pay for the fast lane will be in the slow lane. This would mean more out-of-pocket expenses for small entrepreneurs who seek to be competitive. The owners of the web infrastructure could decide, on the basis of content, what is publicly available and what is not. They could even block sites they don’t like.
Who has an interest:Small businesses, nonprofit groups, public interest groups, independent artists, independent blogs, those who like to surf all of the above.
Net Neutrality: Net Neutrality would require broadband providers not to impair access (in any way) of users to any lawful content posted on the internet, and could not favor themselves or their cronies in quality or use of the internet.
Net Neutrality naysayers:These guys make what I like to call the "Dorothy in Kansas Argument." They support waiting to see what happens, doing nothing in the way of guaranteeing an equally accessible internet. The gist of their argument is how do we know anything bad will happen?
Net Neutrality advocates: These guys make what I call the "You’re Not in Kansas Anymore" argument. They believe this is a choice between who gets to decide what you can access and who can access you. Why give that power up if you don’t have to?
It is undetermined at this point when the Senate will vote on this issue. For anyone who is interested in the outcome and is looking for something they can do, phone calls and e-mails to representatives work. If you don’t know who your representatives are, both Moveon.org and the Christian Coalition (http://www.cc.org) have nationwide zip code locators that you can use to determine who your representatives are.
With the trend of diminishing library reserves in favor of internet-based information and more and more people dependent on researching online, the idea of letting anyone have gatekeeper status over what the public can and cannot access sounds like a bad (American) dream.
There are numerous websites with information on this issue. A few are Savetheinternet.com, Moveon.org, the Christian Coalition at (cc.org), Center for Digital Democracy (democraticmedia.org) and Free Press (freepress.net).