Sunday, May 07, 2006

Net Neutrality

For those of us who may not have kept up with the conversation, “catching up” can be a difficult thing to do, but there’s talk taking place right now that wants your attention in a big way. If you are one of the millions of folks managing and informing your life through online applications – Google, Yahoo, Flickr, news outlets, or any of the thousands of social circuits connecting you to friends, music, and fast data, your freedom to connect is being threatened right now by the resurrected –opoly we once knew/know as AT&T.

Listen for the phrase, “net neutrality,” and when you hear it, recognize the conversation to be about whether or not AT&T has the right to charge content providers a “toll” for sending information at high speeds over the internet.

You currently pay “extra” for speed … ok. The additional discussion is about whether the service provider can charge the information sender an “extra” charge, too.

Think it through. Can you see where this leads? If the Telcom –opolies impose a cost for sending information, they essentially control which packet of information you can access. Your “choice” is protected only if you choose to wait on dial-up speeds to get the information you prefer to receive – the information that comes from a content provider who can’t afford to pay the AT&T toll.

When you hear “freedom to connect” and “net neutrality,” you’re at the door of a conversation aimed at protecting your access to information … ALL the information. You’ve paid for access. You’ve paid for speed. It isn’t right that you now have to fight to protect your purchase, but it appears a fight is at hand, and protecting your liberty in accessing information is exactly at issue right now.

You bought your spiffy new car, and you even bought a terrific garage to keep it in, but now, if the trucker that was supposed to deliver the car won’t ante up another fistful of cash, Ford won’t put the car on her rig. Sorry, you’ll have to wait for the next available tow.

Don’t let it happen!

Rebecca Blood uses another analogy to present the case:

Think of the way cable companies operate … They always choose the programs you want to see for "Basic cable." Do you have any recourse if they decide not to carry a particular station you want to watch? Now imagine that same state of affairs when you surf the Web. If this issue is new to you, it's worth your while to understand why the Telcos are lobbying Congress so hard.

From the Salon feature story on the topic, this:

AT&T is back, it's big, and according to consumer advocates and some of the nation's largest technology companies, AT&T wants to take over the Internet.

The critics -- including Apple, Amazon, eBay, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo -- point out that AT&T, along with Verizon and Comcast, its main rivals in the telecom business, will dominate the U.S. market for residential high-speed Internet service – a market currently worth $20 billion, and according to the Federal Communications Commission, the major "incumbent" phone and cable companies -- such as AT&T -- control 98 percent of that business. Critics say that these giants gained their power through years of deregulation and lax oversight. Now many fear that phone and cable firms will gain enormous sway over what Americans do online.

AT&T has hinted that it plans to charge Web companies a kind of toll to send data at the highest speeds down DSL lines. The plan would make AT&T a gatekeeper of media in your home. Tens of millions of people might only be able to access heavy-bandwidth applications -- audio, video, and Internet phone service -- from the companies that have paid AT&T a fee. Meanwhile, firms that don't pay -- perhaps Google, Yahoo, Skype, YouTube, Salon, or anyone else -- would be forced to use a smaller and slower section of the network, what Internet pioneer Vint Cerf calls a "dirt road."

I am almost certainly missing pieces of understanding, maybe even large chunks of the conversation, but I’m learning. Ken, if you’ve read this far and can improve on any of the points I’m trying to make, please do … always appreciated. So many of our future liberties depend on the work we do today to keep the Net free. Some very savvy folks are shouting as loud as they can on all our behalves right now, and I mean to add my voice in chorus.

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Wil said...


Missing from your discourse on this issue is a suggestion (or hint, even) of what can be done to stop AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, etc.

Ken said...

I've so meant to come comment, but there are so many more nuances, so many aspects we all overlook, that got got lost in my own rat-infested tunnels of thought.

AT&T is truly the tip for the iceberg and is really only the faint harbinger of corporate greed and control. Qwest, Verizion, Comcast. Really all the cable providers. Rogers in Canada has a carniverous reputation and approach.

The battle for net neutraliy is one of opposites. On the one hand, there is the group of capitalistic profit-mongers (see above) who salivate over the thought of a government sponsored market which they can hold prisoner (see history of the Bell system and government sponsored monopoly). On the other side is that shapeless group I often refer to as "we, the people,' Even we don't often know we are members of this group. Too many people slumber as they walk through daily life, accepting what comes along, assuming the government, the capitalist free enterprise machine, the world, will do the right thing. But the right thing is too often the antithesis of what motivates the machine.

Good reading reference - Prometheus Wired: The Hope for Democracy in the Age of Network Technology

Disclaimer - If you're of a Republican bent (word choice selected quite intentionally), you will find reading this akin to chewing on nails.

Tom said...

I am encouraging people to take the Net Neutrality (Keeping the Internet a Level Playing Field, as I like to call it) fight local. If Verizon or AT&T are applying in your town or a town near you for a cable TV franchise then contact your local government and tell them to make Keeping the Internet a Level Playing Field an important part of the franchise agreement negotiations.

Thanks -- Tom

Mary Godwin said...

Wil, thanks for coming by, and I freely acknowledge the deficit in my discourse. I am so new to the conversation that the best I am able to do so far is emote on topic. I am grateful for friends like Ken Camp and now Tom who are willing to add more meat to the exchange. Tom's idea seems like a wonderfully "right here, right now" suggestion. I'm on it in West Lafayette, Tom. And Ken, thanks for taking the time to comment. I know your schedule pushes the limits of your time. I'm honored. -mg