This isn’t the type of thing I usually write about and those of you who know me personally know I’m the first person to bust someone for forwarding spam email about something that isn’t true. But this is important to me personally, as a librarian and as a small business owner.
There is legislation in front of Congress right now that would allow network owners to charge website owners in order to get preferential treatment in traffic on the net. Those who don’t pay could find themselves loading much slower or not loading into people’s browsers at all.
What is Network Neutrality?
Network Neutrality — or “Net Neutrality” for short — is the guiding principle that preserves the free and open Internet.
Net Neutrality ensures that all users can access the content or run the applications and devices of their choice. With Net Neutrality, the network’s only job is to move data — not choose which data to privilege with higher quality service. Net Neutrality prevents the companies that control the wires from discriminating against content based on its source or ownership.
Net Neutrality is the reason why the Internet has driven economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech online. It’s why the Internet has become an unrivaled environment for open communications, civic involvement and free speech.
Learn more in Net Neutrality 101.
Who wants to get rid of Net Neutrality?
The nation’s largest telephone and cable companies — including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner — want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won’t load at all.
They want to tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data. They want to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video — while slowing down or blocking their competitors.
What’s at stake?
Decisions being made now will shape the future of the Internet for a generation. Before long, all media — TV, phone and the Web — will come to your home via the same broadband connection. The dispute over Net Neutrality is about who’ll control access to new and emerging technologies.
On the Internet, consumers are in ultimate control — deciding between content, applications and services available anywhere, no matter who owns the network. There’s no middleman. But without Net Neutrality, the Internet will look more like cable TV. Network owners will decide which channels, content and applications are available; consumers will have to choose from their menu.
The Internet has always been driven by innovation. Web sites and services succeeded or failed on their own merit. Without Net Neutrality, decisions now made collectively by millions of users will be made in corporate boardrooms. The choice we face now is whether we can choose the content and services we want, or whether the broadband barons will choose for us.
Isn’t this just a battle between giant corporations?
No. Small business owners benefit from an Internet that allows them to compete directly — not one where they can’t afford the price of entry. Net Neutrality ensures that innovators can start small and dream big about being the next EBay or Google without facing insurmountable hurdles. Without Net Neutrality, startups and entrepreneurs will be muscled out of the marketplace by big corporations that pay for a top spot on the Web.
But Net Neutrality doesn’t just matter to business owners. If Congress turns the Internet over to the telephone and cable giants, everyone who uses the Internet will be affected. Connecting to your office could take longer if you don’t purchase your carrier’s preferred applications. Sending family photos and videos could slow to a crawl. Web pages you always use for online banking, access to health care information, planning a trip, or communicating with friends and family could fall victim to pay-for-speed schemes.
Independent voices and political groups are especially vulnerable. Costs will skyrocket to post and share video and audio clips, silencing bloggers and amplifying the big media companies. Political organizing could be slowed by the handful of dominant Internet providers who ask advocacy groups or candidates to pay a fee to join the “fast lane.”
Isn’t the threat to Net Neutrality just hypothetical?
No. So far, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. But numerous examples show that without network neutrality requirements, Internet service providers will discriminate against content and competing 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 labor dispute.
Shaw, a big Canadian cable TV company, is charging an extra $10 a month to subscribers in order to “enhance” competing Internet telephone services.
In April, Time Warner’s AOL blocked all emails that mentioned http://www.dearaol.com — an advocacy campaign opposing the company’s pay-to-send e-mail scheme.
This type of censorship will become the norm unless we act now. Given the chance, these gatekeepers will consistently put their own interests before the public good.