Saturday, June 17, 2006

Net Neutrality or Bust

First let me say I am sorry this has been such a long time coming. I cannot believe my last post was nearly a month ago. I would like to blame the end of the school year or my daughter's 18th b-day, which both took a lot of my time, but mostly I have been taking a break and reading (damn you bubba for giving me such good books for my birthday). But I feel it has been time well spent because I have recharged my engines and hope to be more productive in days to come.

The good news is that I have finally managed to come to an opinion in favor of Net Neutrality, thanks to Molly Ivins and strangely enough, The New Republic Online. Molly made me remember we cannot trust our corporate-sponsored government to do what is right for consumers, and TNR managed to write the most concise opinion on why Net Neutrality is important. Follow the link to read the entire article, but I reprint the most important bits:

"Content providers from Google and Amazon to Daily Kos and TNR Online currently pay Web-hosting companies to put their content on the Internet. Consumers then access that content via Internet service providers, such as Comcast and Verizon. Under the new FCC guidelines, those companies will be able to charge content providers a fee to deliver their content to consumers and, in particular, an additional surcharge to deliver their content to consumers more quickly--that is, they will be able to create a faster toll lane on the information superhighway. If they want, the telecoms can favor their own services and penalize competitors--for instance, voice over Internet protocol companies like Vonage--by denying them faster service. They can even charge lucrative fees to companies for exclusive access to the fast lane at the expense of their competitors, giving, for example, L.L. Bean an advantage over Lands' End. And, by making the fast lane prohibitively expensive, they can force start-up ventures and noncommercial providers (like blogs) onto the bumpy dirt roads of the Internet"...snip

"Most important, as Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig has argued, the Internet is not only a tool for economic growth, it is also a public commons for the exchange of ideas. It is where Americans can not only search for the best deal on a new digital camera, but also debate the country's future. Unlike the telephone, it is a medium in which thousands, even millions, of people can participate in the same discussion at the same time. Unlike television, it is interactive. But it can't function optimally if content is prioritized or filtered by telecom companies. Allowing companies to levy a toll on information providers is not just a blow to consumer choice--it's a blow to democracy."

I've started to think of it like shopping. There are many ways to get to your favorite store. You can walk or ride your bike for a very low price, but it takes a long time (like dial-up). You can choose to drive there, which is quicker, but cost gas and you must have a car (like DSL or cable). But what if you found that when you got to the store it cost to get in, or you had to wait in line, not because the store wanted it that way, but because the gas companies or the highway construction companies wanted to make more money off your transportation costs. You've already paid them for their services, through taxes and gas and car payments, but they want to take a bite from both ends, for their initial service and for what you do with it too.

Sounds crazy right, but that is the nutshell argument. And they say, well we can't build more better roads if we don't have this money. But you've seen the toll roads going up all over town, so you know they have figured out how to make consumers pay more for faster service. To make things even more frightening, your favorite store ends up having to close down because there was never a particularly good road built to it, but the new Walmart down the street got priority treatment somehow and has taken all its business, because it is sooooooo easy to get to, has lots of parking and cheap stuff too, if not what you really wanted in the first place.

Welcome to the internet without Net Neutrality. Consumers lose all the way around, on cost and choice, while the telecos find ways to boost earnings at our expense. My main man Russ Feingold has seen the parallels to what has been happening in the radio and concert areas as well. Wonder why you haven't heard the Dixie Chicks new song on the radio? What if Walmart decided to stop selling their CD too? Then it was unavailable on the internet. Welcome to dissent free America. We have lost the power to control so much in this country, lets not let the internet be next. Support Net Neutrality!