Thursday, April 20, 2006

Internet Law before Congress

Hey Bloggers and Bloggees --

Make sure that the government doesn't let corporations control the internet. Read the following email I received today and do your part to keep the internet free.

-- Maggie

Dear MoveOn member,

The free speech of MoveOn and all other Internet users is at stake as Congress tries to push through a radical law that gives corporations more control over online speech.

Internet providers like AT&T and Verizon are lobbying Congress hard to abandon Network Neutrality, the First Amendment for the Internet. Network Neutrality is the idea that all speakers on the Internet must be treated equally—from the biggest corporation to the smallest blog. It prevents the censorship that would result if Internet providers like AT&T got to choose which websites open easily based on which websites paid AT&T more.

MoveOn has already seen the censorship that happens when the Internet's gatekeepers get too much control over speech. Just last week, AOL blocked any email mentioning a coalition that MoveOn is a part of, which opposes AOL's proposed "email tax."1 And last year, Canada's version of AT&T—Telus—blocked their Internet customers from visiting a website sympathetic to workers with whom Telus was negotiating.2

We need to act now to protect free speech online. Can you sign this petition to your member of Congress asking him or her not to gut Net Neutrality? Click here:

Then, please forward this to 3 friends. Protecting free speech online is fundamental—it affects nearly everyone and every issue. When you sign this petition, you'll be kept informed of the next steps we can take to keep the heat on Congress. Votes begin in a House committee next week.

Politicians don't think we are paying attention to this issue. Many of them take campaign checks from big telecom companies and are on the verge of selling out to people like AT&T's CEO, who openly says, "The internet can't be free."3

Together, we can let Congress know we are paying attention. We can make sure they listen to our voices and the voices of people like Vint Serf, a father of the Internet and Google's "Chief Internet Evangelist," who recently wrote this to Congress in support of preserving Network Neutrality:

My fear is that, as written, this bill would do great damage to the Internet as we know it. Enshrining a rule that broadly permits network operators to discriminate in favor of certain kinds of services and to potentially interfere with others would place broadband operators in control of online activity...Telephone companies cannot tell consumers who they can call; network operators should not dictate what people can do online.4

The stakes for free speech online are high—can you sign this petition letting your member of Congress you support preserving Network Neutrality? Click here:

Please forward to 3 others who care about this issue. Thanks for all you do.

–Eli Pariser, Adam Green, Noah T. Winer, and the Civic Action team
Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

P.S. If Congress abandons Network Neutrality who will be negatively affected?

Advocacy groups like MoveOn—Political organizing could be slowed by a handful of dominant Internet providers who ask advocacy groups to pay "protection money" for their websites and online features to work correctly. Those who don't pay essentially get censored.
Nonprofits—A charity's website could open at snail-speed, and online contributions could grind to a halt, if nonprofits can't pay dominant Internet providers for access to "the fast lane" of Internet service.
Google users—Another search engine could pay dominant Internet providers like AT&T to guarantee the competing search engine opens faster than Google on your computer.
Innovators with the "next big idea"—Startups and entrepreneurs will be muscled out of the marketplace by big corporations that pay Internet providers for dominant placing on the Web. The little guy will be left in the "slow lane" with inferior Internet service, unable to compete.
Ipod listeners—A company like Comcast could slow access to iTunes, steering you to a higher-priced music service that it owned.
Online purchasers—Companies could pay Internet providers to guarantee their online sales process faster than competitors with lower prices—distorting your choice as a consumer.
Small businesses and tele-commuters—When Internet companies like AT&T favor their own services, you won't be able to choose more affordable providers for online video, teleconferencing, Internet phone calls, and software that connects your home computer to your office.
Parents and retirees—Your choices as a consumer could be controlled by your Internet provider, steering you to their preferred services for online banking, health care information, sending photos, planning vacations, etc.
Bloggers—Costs will skyrocket to post and share video and audio clips—silencing citizen journalists and putting more power in the hands of a few corporate-owned media outlets.
P.P.S. This excerpt from the New Yorker really sums up this issue well.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, as a national telephone network spread across the United States, A.T. & T. adopted a policy of "tiered access" for businesses. Companies that paid an extra fee got better service: their customers' calls went through immediately, were rarely disconnected, and sounded crystal-clear. Those who didn't pony up had a harder time making calls out, and people calling them sometimes got an "all circuits busy" response. Over time, customers gravitated toward the higher-tier companies and away from the ones that were more difficult to reach. In effect, A.T. & T.'s policy turned it into a corporate kingmaker.

If you've never heard about this bit of business history, there's a good reason: it never happened. Instead, A.T. & T. had to abide by a "common carriage" rule: it provided the same quality of service to all, and could not favor one customer over another. But, while "tiered access" never influenced the spread of the telephone network, it is becoming a major issue in the evolution of the Internet.

Until recently, companies that provided Internet access followed a de-facto commoncarriage rule, usually called "network neutrality," which meant that all Web sites got equal treatment. Network neutrality was considered so fundamental to the success of the Net that Michael Powell, when he was chairman of the F.C.C., described it as one of the basic rules of "Internet freedom." In the past few months, though, companies like A.T. & T. and BellSouth have been trying to scuttle it. In the future, Web sites that pay extra to providers could receive what BellSouth recently called "special treatment," and those that don't could end up in the slow lane. One day, BellSouth customers may find that, say, loads a lot faster than, and that the sites BellSouth favors just seem to run more smoothly. Tiered access will turn the providers into Internet gatekeepers.5


1. "AOL Blocks Critics' E-Mails," Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2006

2. "B.C. Civil Liberties Association Denounces Blocking of Website by Telus," British Columbia Civil Liberties Association Statement, July 27, 2005

3. "At SBC, It's All About 'Scale and Scope," BusinessWeek, November 7, 2002

4. "Vint Cerf speaks out on net neutrality," Google Blog—Cerf Letter to Congress,November 8, 2005

5. "Net Losses," New Yorker, March 20, 2006

6. "Don't undercut Internet access," San Francisco Chronicle editorial, April 17, 2006


spectacled bear said...

Ok, there are a couple of salient facts that left out. 1) AOL claims that there was no nefarious plot to block moveon's e-mails--they say that it was an honest mistake, a glitch in their system. Beleive it or not, but at least both sides should be represented. Moveon doesn't exactly have a great track record, ya know?
2) The list of potentially agreged "victims" is a bit much, isn't it? The Googles and iTunes of the world have the market and financial strength to take on the telcos, don't you think? And would you accept an internet without Google or iTunes? I wouldn't...and I'd wager that the vast majority of consumers wouldn't either. Meaning that the market will sort this out if and when there is an actual problem to sort out.

pkp646 said...

Regardless of what one might think about groups like Moveon, I think they are simply wrong on this issue. They are misleading there members with scare tactics about a problem that does not exist to try and get Congress involved where it has no business doing so.

Anonymous said...

great ..thanks for sharing.....

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