In an age when the Internet is so tightly woven into the fabric of our everyday lives, there is a major threat to this seemingly free and open luxury.
Since its inception, the Internet has been designed with a neutral philosophy that believes users should have the freedom to choose which web service to use whenever they want. However, the broadband providers essentially hold full power over the “last mile” of the Internet – the final leg in delivering connectivity of the Internet to the end users. This means that they hold somewhat of a monopolistic power over Internet users.
Further, the nation’s largest Internet service providers (ISPs) want to be Internet gatekeepers by speeding up or slowing down web content based on its source, ownership or destination. ISPs want to charge web content creators – and not end users – an additional fee in order to get their content to the users on a faster line. This is the principle behind the tiered Internet system: giving major advantage to large companies that can afford to pay the additional fees. This will cripple smaller content providers and stifle competition and innovation.
Network neutrality or “net neutrality” is the principle behind preserving the freedom and openness that we experience on the Internet today. A net neutral law would prevent interference and discrimination from ISPs – their only job will be to move data, not tamper with it. Once the ISPs have control over the speed with which content is delivered, users will lose the freedom to choose the content they want to view. For example, if the Google News webpage takes two seconds to load, and a start-up company’s news page takes 10 seconds to load, the user will not bother with the slower site.
The Internet should not discriminate because it allows many companies to start, compete and offer innovative services. Many companies, such as Google, succeeded purely on the fact that the Internet is a neutral medium. Users ultimately determine if content is good and worth keeping around, while bad content is weeded out on the neutral, democratic system. Major figures in the industry have shown their support for net neutrality – including World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and co-inventor of the Internet Protocol, Vint Cerf Major companies such as Google, Amazon, eBay, Intel, Facebook and Yahoo! have also voiced their support. Naturally, giant telecom and cable companies, including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner have been found pouring some $175 million plus into lobbying against a net neutrality law.
When Congress revised the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006, the telecoms and cable companies failed to pass their legislation because Internet users voiced concerns. Furthermore, the House of Representatives failed to include net neutrality provisions in the COPE Act. In June of this year, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation passed its own version of the act, but also failed to include net neutrality provisions. Currently, the U.S. Senate is working on a telecommunications act that will include net neutrality protections.
The good news is that the act has support from members of Congress, including Ed Markey from the House of Representatives, and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) from the Senate. If you agree with net neutrality, do not feel as if there is nothing you can do. Sign the petition at savetheinternet.com or e-mail the members of Congress to preserve Internet freedom. Once net neutrality is broken, we will lose the medium that we take for granted everyday. Yeah, that means no more Facebook, too.