Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Internet: Something Wicked This Way Comes

The beautiful thing about the Internet is that it offers a level playing field whether you are rich or poor, a bigshot or an Average Joe. This is why the Net has been such an engine for economic innovation and free speech.

That could come to a screeching halt if bigfoot Internet providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T get their way.

Several bills are wending their way through Congress under the guise of revamping the federal Telecommunications Act that neuter the First Amendment of the Internet – Net Neutrality – the concept that the Internet is open to all. This would enable the bigfoot Internet providers to control which Web sites are available to their customers. These, of course, would be the sites that pay them the most money for access.

If you think that the bigfoots don’t have a chance of succeeding in the land of the free and home of the yada yada yada, think again.

They’re already hard at work on ways to fetter your access. (More about that later.) They also have very deep pockets, give lavishly to Democrats and Republicans alike, and are bankrolling faux organizations like "Hands Off the Internet" to confuse the issue and give the appearance that they have grassroots support.


The most worrisome bill before Congress is the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006 (COPE), a misleadingly titled piece of mischief that the House could vote on as early as next week.

COPE contains a Net Neutrality provision that is toothless. This replaced an early provision with teeth offered by Rep. Edward Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat, that was defeated in committee after intense bigfoot lobbying. It is small consolation that Markey will again introduce his amendment on the floor so that every member is on record as to whether they’re siding with the bigfoots or you and I.

The Senate is moving more deliberately on the issue. Its leading bill is the Internet Nondiscrimination Act of 2006, which at this point would ensure Net Neutrality.


The bigfoots already have shown that they can use their gatekeeping powers in unpleasant ways.

* Time Warner's AOL blocked all emails that mentioned -- an advocacy campaign opposing the company's pay-to-send e-mail.

* Telus -- Canada's version of AT&T -- blocked their Internet customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to workers with whom the company was having a labor dispute.

* Madison River, a North Carolina provider, blocked its customers from using any competing Internet phone service.

* Shaw, a big Canadian cable TV company, is charging an extra $10 a month to subscribers in order to "enhance" competing Internet telephone services.


How would gutting Net Neutrality affect you? Let's count the ways:

* A search engine could pay bigfoot Internet providers to guarantee that it opens faster than, say, Google on your computer.

* Start-ups and small entrepreneurs could be muscled out of the marketplace by big corporations that pay bigfoot providers for dominant placing on the Web.

* Bigfoot providers could slow access to iTunes for Ipod listeners, steering them to its own higher-priced music service.

* Political organizing could be slowed by bigfoot providers who ask advocacy groups to pay "protection money" for their websites.

* Websites for non-profit charities could open at snail speed and online contributions could slow if they can't pay bigfoot providers for "fast lane" Net access.

* Companies could distort consumer choices by paying bigfoot providers to guarantee their online sales process faster than competitors with lower prices.

* Costs could skyrocket for citizen journalist blogs like Kiko’s House, which would put even more power in the hands of a few corporate-owned media outlets.


The leading organization in the fight against the bigfoots is It has an online petition that you can sign.

You can also write your congressperson. Here are helpful instructions on how to do so.

In any event, just don't sit there. Do something!

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