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The Human Element Blog

Save the Internets!

Posted Apr 01, 2011 by

The issue of net neutrality has been on the table for years, but if you asked my mother what it meant, she wouldn’t have the foggiest – even though the premise of losing it would probably really piss her off. I think that’s probably where the majority of the population is on this issue: In the dark.

So let us start with a brief definition. According to PCMag.com, net neutrality is:

A level playing field for Internet transport. It refers to the absence of restrictions or priorities placed on the type of content carried over the Internet by the carriers and ISPs that run the major backbones. It states that all traffic be treated equally; that packets are delivered on a first-come, first-served basis regardless from where they originated or to where they are destined.

And according to beloved funnyman turned Senator Al Franken, unless people turn up the heat on the FCC to defend net neutrality, we’re going to lose it, he said in a speech to tech junkies at SXSW on Monday.

What does that mean for you and me – the proverbial “little guys” in all this? If net neutrality is not maintained, whether through the FCC or some other entity, ISPs can potentially throttle internet service at will – whether to choke out competitors or give preference to sites that are able to pay a premium.

For years, major internet carriers with lobbying dollars to spend have pushed the FCC on the issue, claiming that sites should be charged based on their traffic… which, at face value, sounds fair…. but would probably destroy the internet as we’ve come to know it – as a democratic institution that gives equal access to websites regardless of content or size.

In February, the House of Representatives shot down a bill largely along party lines (Now, there’s a shocker.) that would put rules into place to protect net neutrality.

The Washington Post reported that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski wrote a letter to lawmakers imploring them to pass the regulations to ensure equal access to content, “because broadband providers have the ability to act as gatekeepers even in the absence of market power with respect to end users.”

Small businesses, musicians, artists – the people who make the internet culture vibrant and interesting, but don’t necessarily have the means to support a pay-to-play online presence – could lose that equal access if net neutrality is not maintained.

According to TheUptake.org, who printed quotes from his speech, Franken said:

“You don’t need a record deal to make a song and have people hear it, or a major film studio for people to see your film, or a fancy R&D job. But the party may almost be over.”

So, you can see why I’m concerned. To me, the loss of net neutrality just looks like one more way that big corporations are taking over our democracy and squelching the American dream – pardon my fleeting dramatic incursion.

Not to bury the lede here, but Franken also said he would be working to introduce a bill that would allow the Justice Department to take enforcement actions against ISPs that block websites. He said the legislation would “call violations of net neutrality out for what they are: anti-competitive actions by powerful media conglomerates that represent violations of our anti-trust laws.”

If the FCC can’t get it done, at least that’s something to hope for.

To learn more about Net Neutrality and internet freedom, visit SavetheInternet.com.

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