Background: What is Net Neutrality?
How does it affect small businesses and everyday Internet users?
When you order your Internet service, your Internet provider traditionally has not been allowed to choose which websites open quickly on your computer. They haven’t been able to decide that Yahoo will open more quickly than Google, that corporate news sites will open more quickly than independent blogs, that big business websites will open more quickly than the sites of small businesses and entreprenerus, or that an online video or audio site they own will open more quickly than competitors like YouTube or iTunes.
That's because of Net Neutrality--the principle that's been in place since the Internet was created that says Internet service providers can't abuse their role as gatekeepers to the Internet by discriminating between websites. But Net Neutrality is now in jeopardy--recently slated for elimination by the Federal Communications Commission, it will be a thing of the past unless Congress acts or the FCC reverses course.
Dominant telephone and cable companies (like AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth, Comcast, and Time Warner) want to permanently eliminate Net Neutrality so they can put tollbooths on the Internet and prioritize sites that pay them the most. They've been quite blatant about it--here's what one top executive told the Washington Post:
"William L. Smith, chief technology officer for Atlanta-based BellSouth Corp., told reporters and analysts that an Internet service provider such as his firm should be able, for example, to charge Yahoo Inc. for the opportunity to have its search site load faster than that of Google Inc." (Washington Post, December 1, 2005)
If a multi-billion dollar company like Google may get outbid for the right to work properly on people’s computers, one can imagine the fate of small businesses, nonprofit organizations, activist groups, religious groups, and other everyday Internet users that use the Internet to communicate.
In 2007, we saw some concrete examples of phone and cable companies abusing their role as gatekeeper. Verizon censored text messages about abortion rights that it deemed “controversial" -- promping condemnation by both NARAL and the Christian Coalition. Comcast was caught violating Net Neutrality by degrading the service of a web-based competitor. AT&T recently censored political speech by Pearl Jam in show broadcast online by AT&T-- first calling it a "solitary incident" that was not part of their policy, then it turned out there were multple incidents of censorship, then a staffer said it was actually part of their policy.
Without Net Neutrality, companies like Google that started in a garage never would have had the opportunity to take off. Similarly, in rural areas, where the Internet gives small businesses and entrepreneurs the opportunity to make a living through e-commerce, ending the little guy's equal access to the Internet could prevent rural businesses from surviving -- causing people to move away to find new opportunities.
Congress and the FCC need to act quickly to re-instate Net Neutrality back into the law. That's why 1.6 million Internet users and over 850 organizations across the nation have formed the SavetheInternet.com Coalition.
Some informative links:
"Executive Wants to Charge for Web Speed," Washington Post, December 1, 2005
Top Ten Examples Of Grassroots Activism In The Net Neutrality Fight
"Financial sector awakens to Net neutrality issues," Reuters, May 2, 2006
How Net Neutrality Affects You
Joint Op-Ed on Net Neutrality, MoveOn and Christian Coalition, Washington Times, June 16, 2006
"Net Losses," New Yorker, March 20, 2006
Jon Stewart's Daily Show describes Net Neutrality, July 12, 2006
Second Net Neutrality segment on The Daily Show, Wednesday, July 19, 2006
From above: Verizon censored text messages about abortion rights that it deemed “controversial" -- promping condemnation by both NARAL and the Christian Coalition. Comcast was caught violating Net Neutrality by degrading the service of a web-based competitor. AT&T recently censored political speech by Pearl Jam in show broadcast online by AT&T-- first calling it a "solitary incident" that was not part of their policy, then it turned out there were multple incidents of censorship, then a staffer said it was actually part of their policy.