Net neutrality = net equality

by Seattle Times Editorial Staff, Seattle Times

THE U.S. Senate still has a chance to ensure that the Internet remains universally accessible and a powerful tool for consumers and businesses. This will only happen if lawmakers ensure computer network neutrality.

The Senate Commerce Committee stuck a blow to an open Internet last week when it sent the telecommunications bill, called the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006, to the Senate for a vote without a guarantee of network neutrality. The tactics used by the telecom lobby to push for a two-tired Internet have been effectively confusing. Despite the panic-fanned flames surrounding the issue, its core is simple. Network neutrality is good for the consumer and democracy because it would ensure that all Internet content is treated equally.

The Internet will become an anti-democratic device if Congress is able to push the telecom bill through this summer session. Web sites, or companies, would pay a network provider a fee to speedily load its pages to computers. Web sites that do not pay the extra fee would be slowed down so the preferred sites can zip past. It is a safe bet that the fast-lane price would be passed on to the consumer.

Lobbyists from big telecom companies such as Verizon and AT&T are spending like compulsive shoppers on eBay to get their message out. The campaign has painted neutrality as a government restriction that would stifle competition. That's hardly the case.

The Internet has fostered numerous innovations because everything from a family's Web page to Verizon's site are treated the same through the broadband that feeds computers. What happens to services such as iTunes if the telecoms provide a rival music site? Potentially, iTunes could be slowed down while a home-grown proprietary rival gets preferential treatment. How does that serve the consumer?

Lawmakers need to insert language that perpetuates the Internet as a breeding ground for divergent voices and services, even if that means taking a whack at a new telecom bill next session.
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article originally published at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/editorialsopinion/2003109687_netwed07.html.

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