Net Neutrality: Why You Should Give a Damn

Right now, Congress is in the middle of a major overhaul of Communications laws in the United States, and if you don't look over their shoulders, they are about to do away with your Internet. Think you can always get fast access to any search service you want to use over your super fast broadband access? Think you can continue to read MyDD or Daily Kos, or RedState or the Free Republic? Think again.

Let's get on the same page first. What is Net Neutrality? Well, the alliance defending it could go into details, but the very essence of it is that it institutes a non-discrimination rule in Internet services. That is, it says that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can't choose what you read on the Internet, which instant messaging service you use, or what Internet telephony you use by manipulating bandwith that YOU, the consumer, already pay for.

There are unholy alliances at play. Take for example fierce competitors in the broadband market: Comcast (the nation's premier Cable Internet provider) and AT&T (America's largest DSL service provider). They are both in bed together to fight Net Neutrality tooth and nail. They would like you to look at them as the victim. Their basic argument comes down to two things: (1) Competitive market will make sure that content is not excluded - or else consumers will switch, and (2) They are investing billions in new technologies to deliver faster internet service, so why should companies that didn't put in any money be allowed a free ride? They argue that that investment entitles them to set aside bandwidth (i.e. Internet traffic) for their preferred partners and services.

BIG problems. HUGE deal.

First, if they are arguing that competitive market will make sure that content is not excluded, and they would never in a million years think about excluding net content from their customers anyway, why are they so afraid to have that very thing written into law? If they will keep the Net neutral anyway, they shouldn't have a problem with that being written into law, should they? But you see, the problem is much bigger. They DO want to censor sites. They DO want to preclude you from using services you might want. In fact they have already done it. Save the Internet reports:

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 www.dearaol.com — an advocacy campaign opposing the company's pay-to-send e-mail scheme.

Corporations are neither good nor evil by nature.  They are driven to protect their only purpose: their bottom line.  They are not driven by customers, or social responsibility.  They do whatever is necessary to preserve and expand their bottom line.  When we do not have laws regulating the social (or anti-social) behaviors of corporations, we end up with a system called fascism (it's the definition of fascism, look it up).  If you are using, say AT&T for your service, and there is no Net Neutrality, and Daily Kos is speaking out on their campaign donation practicces and is urging you to switch to a different service, do you think AT&T will hesitate for a moment before blocking Daily Kos?  You're not a lefty, you say?  You are a conservative, you say?  What if Comcast blocks off your access to RedState and the Christian Coalitions' websites because they express outrage on Comcast's decision to expand their gay-themed TV offerings, or because they instituted a rule within the company to go beyond even the current affirmative action rules? 

But you are not political, you say.  Great.  Say you use AT&T or Comcast's broadband access and are enjoying Skype's new free calling (PC to Phone) within the United States.  But both Comcast and AT&T have phone offerings, and they decide they should be making some money off your phone calls, so they block your access to Skype.  For that matter, they block your access to any telephony service except the ones they offer.  Or if they don't block it, they let it use so little bandwidth (traffic) that it is rendered useless.  Still feeling apolitical?

Of course, if the above is the case, AT&T or Comcast will argue that they are investing money to build these huge broadband networks, and they should be allowed to reap the spoils.  Sounds fair, right?  That is, until you consider one basic fact: they DON'T pay for your bandwidth (internet traffic), YOU do.  They are your Internet service provider.  You pay them a monthly fee to cover the cost of your service.  That's how they make their money.  They shouldn't be able to further instruct you what you do with that bandwidth you already paid for!  Also consider that the investments they make in broadband technology now come back to them ten-fold in terms of an increased base of broadband users, which is fueled by the very fact that you can use these other services like digital and broadband telephony to save you money.  So this type of control is not only telling you what to do with something you already paid for (your bandwidth), but also diminishes the possibilities on the net, thus diminishing expansion of broadband.  So if you think that you should be able to use the bandwidth you already paid for however the hell you damn well please, or if you want a bigger broadband userbase, you are for net neutrality, and against corporate gatekeeping of the Internet.

What can you do?  Go to one-stop shop at Save the Internet.  Sign their petition, and find out where your lawmakers are on this.  Also keep up to date with their blog.  If you use AT&T or Comcast, call them and tell them you will switch to Earthlink (or another Net Neutrality friendly ISP) if they don't drop their effort to stop net neutrality.  Yes, Earthlink is a partner of Save the Internet.  Keep the Internet open, innovative, and protect your right to use services you want, not the ones your ISP wants you to use.

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