Congress about to give away the Internet
Phone companies must treat all calls equally, regardless of where they come from, where they're going, or what the callers are saying. Historically, the same non-discrimination policy also covered Internet communications.
Now, a handful of giant telecom companies and their allies in Congress are on the verge of abolishing net neutrality for broadband internet. (Video)
Art Brodsky explains:
The telephone companies, which carried all of the Web traffic until relatively recently, had to treat all of their calls alike without giving any Web site or service favored treatment over another.
The result was today’s Internet, which developed as a result of billions of dollars of investments, from the largest Internet company that spent millions on software and networking, to the one person with a blog who spent a few hundred dollars on a laptop. The Internet grew into a universal public resource because the telephone and cable companies simply transported the bits.
Last fall, however, the Federal Communications Commission, backed by the U.S. Supreme Court, decided that the high-speed Internet services offered by the cable and telephone companies didn’t fall under that law, the Communications Act. Out the window went the law that treated everyone equally. Now, with broadband, we are in a new game without rules. [TPMCafe]
Why should you be concerned about the threat to net neutrality? Short answer: We don't want telecom giants controlling where we can surf or what we can publish online. These companies have a long history of consumer-hostile machinations. As Matt Stoller explains, telecom companies have already blocked competing services, censored emails, and prevented customers from reading political sites. Yesterday, I blogged about how the Canadian telecom company Telus blocked a pro-union website during a labor dispute. Can you imagine the uproar if Telus had cut phone service to union leaders? The same principle is at stake with broadband internet access. Of course, AT&T is already helping the NSA to spy on its customers illegally, probably in the hopes of advancing its monopolistic ambitions through quid pro quo. (See linked podcast for more details.)
If we lose net neutrality, the telecom companies will unleash gouging on an epic scale. Net neutrality means that your service provider can't blackmail you into paying for upgraded service in order to download podcasts or make purchases online. Under the new rules, the companies would be able to force ordinary users to the back of the line unless they pay stiff "upgrade" fees to buy back the capacity that used to be guaranteed to all subscribers.
A handful broadband providers have monopolies or near-monopolies in most regions. Consumers can't expect to choose freely between providers with different rules. More importantly, creating second-class citizens on the internet hurts the entire system, even those who can afford to pay extra for enhanced features. The value of the Internet is that the barriers to entry are low so that people who couldn't otherwise afford to communicate to a large audience can air their views on a national scale. If we lose net neutrality, those voices could be lost, and we'd all be worse off.
If we lose net neutrality, we open the door to massive conflicts of interest. Suppose your ISP wants to start its own search engine or its own web-based phone service. Without net neutrality, they could selectively degrade your Google access or your iChat bandwidth until the in-house alternative started to seem like a good idea.
My further question is whether post net-neutrality telecom companies would have any obligation to disclose what they were doing to their customers' access. For example, would AT&T be able to reserve the fiddle with any subscriber's data transfer rates for any reason, without informing them of the changes?
Matt Stoller runs down the players in the fight for net neutrality. To help save net neutrality you can: write your Representative, Sign MoveOn's net neutrality petition, check out the Save the Internet Community on Myspace.