Friday, June 23rd, 2006
Weep for the future, Na’Toth. Weep for us all.*
In less than 24 hours, the Senate will vote on the Communications, Consumers’ Choice and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 which, if passed as is, would utterly destroy the concept of network neutrality - the idea that no one site on the web should have priority over others in terms of access speed. This has been the guiding principle of the Internet from the very beginning, and has helped fuel the rapid growth of the economy in the 1990s, not to mention allow the very existence of blogs, YouTube, etc. To destroy this is to destroy the very democratic nature that the Net thrives on. And yet, that is what the big Telecom companies like AT&T (the same AT&T, by the way, which has been helping the government spy on average Americans) would like to do.
Oh, sure, Net Neutrality opponents will couch it in the favorite terms of the Free Market Fundamentalists - the competition of free markets is the only answer to EVERY problem, t3h B1g Gubmint is t3h 3v1l!!!!!!1!!11!!, etc. They’ve even gone so far as to create Astroturf™ organizations whose sole purpose is to spread these poisionous lies about network neutrality.
Fortunately, these excuses don’t fly - even among some conservatives. For instance, the right-wing blog L’Ombre de l’Olivier has a stellar demolition of the anti-net neutrality forces’ chief arguments here. It’s worth it to read the whole thing, but here’s the money shot:
So, given that adding prioritization is not a cost-free exercise why are the telcos so keen to prioritize rather than throw bandwidth at the problem? Its obvious isn’t it? they figure they can make more money by charging a premium for access to an artificially starved network. Its like a post office that deliberately throws away 10% of second class mail so that it can charge a premium for "guaranteed delivery" first class mail. If you wonder why people are salivating at WiMAX and 1001 other wireless alphabet soups this would be why. The telcos have got themselves a near monopoly on bandwidth and they would like to reap what monoploly profits they can from their monopoly.
But that’s not all. This is most definitely a bipartisan issue - it’s not about being a liberal or a conservative, it’s about being a concerned American citizen. And indeed, organizations on both the left and the right are lining up against this travesty. Over on the Huffington Post, Eli Pariser notes:
Telecom companies also like to paper Congress with propaganda implying that Internet freedom is somehow a left-wing issue. Tell that to the Christian Coalition, Gun Owners of America, Instapundit, the business executives, and the many libertarians who are fighting right along with MoveOn, the inventors of the Internet, thousands of bloggers, and the SavetheInternet.com Coalition in support of Net Neutrality.
As Craig Fields of the Gun Owners says, when the left and right agree on an issue like Internet freedom, "it’s been my experience that what Congress is getting ready to do is basically un-American." On the proposal to destroy Net Neutrality, most Americans would probably agree.
Hell, Google thought this issue was important enough that it chose it as its very first lobbying campaign. If the premiere search engine on the net is this worried about the future of the engine of its prosperity, then maybe the rest of us need to take notice.
And it goes beyond even the flawed arguments against network neutrality. If Net Neutrality goes down in flames, it allows the Telecoms to set up a system that has been charitably described as "toll booths." In reality, it would serve more like a "protection" racket. (Say, that’s a nice website. It would be a shame if nobody were allowed to access it…) And with nobody refereeing the Net to make sure everyone can access all web sites equally, it makes it easy for Telecoms to completely block access to any site they don’t like. Considering the fact that nine of the top ten political donations from the telecommunications industry donated to Republicans, and that for the last decade, Telecoms have donated to Republicans over Democrats by a margin of as much as 2 to 1, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the first targets of such extortion would be liberal blogs and Democratic Congressmen and candidates. It would certainly explain why the American Conservative Union and the "nonpartisan" Center for Individual Freedom are totally onboard for this sick joke.
So if you have free time in the next 8-12 hours, make sure you let your Senators know that you want them to keep the Internet in the hands of We The People, and vote in favor of Net Neutrality. If they don’t care enough to save democracy on the Internet, and they’re up for re-election this time around, make sure you vote them out!
* In case you’re wondering, the title of this post comes from a line of dialogue in the Babylon 5 second-season episode "Revelations."