“When good people in any country cease their vigilance and struggle, then evil men prevail.” (Pearl Buck)
You and I have fallen asleep at the wheel lately. While we were busy making fun of liberals, looking into the McCarthy mess, and wailing about immigration reform, Congress and the giant telecom companies have temporarily put one over on us.
They’re trying to steal the internet right from underneath our noses.
Let me explain. The way our internet currently works is pretty straightforward and, to give you the buzzword of the day, “net neutral.” That is, if you want to visit this site, you click your mouse over a link and presto! You’re magically transferred to my little slice of nuttiness. If you have a broadband connection, you’re whisked here in nothing flat. And with DSL or dial-up, the resources allocated by your ISP (Internet Service Provider) to find the quickest route to the House and to load this page are exactly the same as those allocated if you are trying to access Daily Kos. In short, your ISP is simply providing access – they don’t have the right to act as a “gatekeeper” by giving priority in the allocation of net resources to one site over another.
That’s not to say the technology that could change net neutrality doesn’t exist because it does. And wouldn’t you know it, the giant telecom companies want to use that technology for what else? To make more money:
The nation’s largest telephone and cable companies â€” including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner â€” 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 â€” while slowing down or blocking their competitors.
These companies have a new vision for the Internet. Instead of an even playing field, they want to reserve express lanes for their own content and services â€” or those from big corporations that can afford the steep tolls â€” and leave the rest of us on a winding dirt road.
Last night while we were enjoying our dinner, the enemies of a net neutral internet scored a significant victory in the House Energy and Commerce Committee with the passage of a Telecommunications Reform proposal that would allow large corporations to take control of the net in ways that would harm free speech and free commerce:
The bill passed 42-12, but not before AT&T got off its final counterattack, just before passage around 7 p.m. In the empty room, right before final passage, Gonzales, from the home town of AT&T, San Antonio, offered an amendment to require the FCC to make a study “competition in the Internet world,” particularly what he called “special arrangements” between Web sites and other companies. It would be similar, he said, to the type of tie-in arrangements that proponents of Net Neutrality said will exist with telephone companies favoring content. Such arrangements between Web sites and others, Gonzales says, would make it hard for a “garage-bases startup” to make a go of it. Citing an article from Southwest Airlines’ magazine, he noted that Google gets revenue from ads tied to searches and that Yahoo is “fighting for deals.”
Democrats were flabbergasted. Eshoo, who represents Silicon Valley, said she was “baffled by the amendment, because Gonzales, who earlier said he was opposed to regulating the Internet. This, she said, “is about regulating search engines.” Markey said he was preparing an amendment to expand the study to include the top five telephone companies and top five cable operators, but didn’t get to offer it. The Gonzales amendment was defeated 11-43, but Google, and Yahoo! and the others should be on notice. This isn’t over. They are squarely in the gunsights.
We’ve been hearing about the promise of broadband for more than a decade, a potential life altering technology that will integrate our entire homes so that all of our communications will be part of one, seamless whole. Television, phone service, internet access, and anything else we choose to include would be controllable through the magic of a broadband connection. Access to thousands of movies, songs, TV shows, news, and blogs, as well as interactivity on a scale never previously seen will change commerce, culture, and radically affect the everyday lives of citizens.
When I first heard of this vision, I couldn’t imagine it. Growing up in a world with three networks and where newspapers were still an impactful part of society, even the advent of the computer revolution didn’t faze me that much. That is, until I got my broadband connection from Comcast last year. The amount of on demand content on my television is pretty extraordinary – much of it available for no extra charge. And while I am currently resisting switching our phone service to Comcast, it is probably just a matter of time before I give in there as well. It goes without saying that the speed of my internet connection – the ability to download A/V as well as flitting from site to site almost instantaneously, makes me wonder how I ever lived with a dial up connection.
I can now see the vision of those broadband pioneers. The outlines of this brave new world are just starting to take shape. But all of these dreams will be meaningless if we allow the large telecom companies and their toadies in Congress to set themselves up as traffic cops on this information highway, the final arbiters of taste, politics, and perhaps even speech itself. Their brazenness in attempting this coup d’etat has been made possible because people like you and me fell asleep. We forgot that vigilance is the price we pay for living in a democracy. We neglected out duties as citizens and the rich, the powerful, and the greedy took full advantage.
I am sorry to say that most of us on the right either ignored this issue or failed to warn people adequately. This must change. There is a website devoted to defeating this attempt at internet regulation called Save The Internet.Com. I urge you to go to this site and join the coalition to protect the internet from the machinations of giant corporations who wish to impose their own, narrow vision of what the internet should be on the rest of us.
The fight is just beginning. And the stakes couldn’t be higher.