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Internet faces more strict regulations

My knowledge of all things computer is extremely limited. In fact, my use of the internet essentially boils down to sending e-mails and illegally downloading copyrighted material (don’t tell anyone). While I have heard it can be used for other less illicit activities, I’m personally pretty satisfied with the way things are.

But wait; is that Congress I hear, debating the regulation of the internet? Could this interfere with my god-given right to acquire butt loads of music without paying a dime? Probably not anytime soon, but the current debate about something called “net neutrality” may be important nonetheless.

The issue comes down to this: Service providers like AT’T and Verizon want to be able to charge content providers like Google for using their connection to the internet which they claim have been receiving a free ride.

On the other hand, proponents of net neutrality fear that this would result in the big telecommunications companies blocking access to or degrading the speed of content provided by companies that don’t pay enough.

For example, Comcast might slow down access to a small but intriguing blog asserting George Bush stole the 2004 election because its content provider couldn’t pay, but they’ll allow speedy access to the “Republicans for Jesus” Web page (hypothetically speaking, of course). Or perhaps not.

The issue of net neutrality has become highly politicized with Republicans largely opposed to any measures that would force ISP’s to treat all internet content equally.

Statements made by Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee charged with tackling this contentious issue, will certainly reassure the public that experts are handling the matter. As Stevens so aptly pointed out, “the internet is not something you just dump something on. It’s not a truck. It’s a series of tubes.”

While few expect the issue to be resolved before Congress ends its current session, lobbyists for the major telecommunications companies have been busy building opposition to any legislation that would include tough neutrality measures.

In particular, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association has been spending money like a drunken Paris Hilton on Rodeo Drive. They spend a whopping $6.6 million on television ads insisting that “Net neutrality simply means: you pay.”

But as spokesmen for the “Save the Internet” campaign, a broad coalition of groups fighting to maintain open access to all sites on the web, explains: “Net Neutrality is the reason why the Internet has driven economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech online.

It’s why the Internet has become an unrivaled environment for open communications, civic involvement and free speech.” While Ted Stevens and his allies argue that market forces can handle the problem without any government regulation, this line of reasoning assumes that local internet service is a fluid market with numerous competitors.

In fact, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report, the median number of high-speed internet providers available to an American household is two.

Further, this lack of competition is one reason why the United States ranks only 16th in the world for broadband penetration and broadband growth. Both sides in the net neutrality debate are correct in pointing out that the future viability of the internet is at stake.

However, legislation that ensures the neutrality of the internet is essential to promote the kind of competition that will benefit both consumers and American technological innovation in the years to come.

Send comments to Jon Bosscher at [email protected].

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