Internet in jeopardy as neutrality erodes

[Seattle Times editorial]

The Internet is a major artery through which new ideas and creativity flows. This conduit for Americans' innovative abilities is in jeopardy.

The Internet has developed into a clean canvas for all to play on and create. The cable and telecommunication companies that dominate broadband in the United States are fighting any network-neutrality law that would ensure the Internet stays this way.Consumer groups, and many Internet users, are worried that network providers want to disrupt competing services or content. There are a number of recent examples of this happening. The most high profile being AT&T censoring comments critical of President Bush by Pearl Jam during a concert shown over the telecom's network.

The issue moves beyond censorship. There is well-founded fear that network providers want to degrade content, or charge companies more to use their networks. Inevitably, an extra charge to a company gets passed on to the consumer.

The Federal Communications Commission, the regulatory agency responsible for broadband and telecommunications, is taking an interest in net neutrality. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said at a hearing last week at Harvard University the commission will act if network providers meddle with the Internet.

The hearing was in response to complaints that Comcast blocked use of BitTorrent, a file-sharing program. The abuse was revealed by The Associated Press.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps wants more hearings. The chairman should agree. It will be harder for Comcast, and other network providers, to bend the Internet to their will if the FCC is watching, and getting input from the consuming public.

Lawmakers need not wait for the FCC to act. Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Chip Pickering, R-Miss., have introduced the Internet Preservation Freedom Act of 2008. In addition to creating a net-errneutrality law, the bill would require a series of summits about the future of Internet policy.

The Internet has become a cornerstone for American ingenuity. Congress and the FCC can see to it that the United States remains competitive with an outlet for our best minds.

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