A Call to Preserve Internet Freedom
By Rob Thompson
Members of our new Congress are just starting to stretch their legs, but before they’re even settled into the starting blocks, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and a powerful phone and cable company lobby have fired the starting gun and begun the race to define the Internet of tomorrow.
No matter how you cut it, our Internet is at a crossroads; we have 30 months before all legal protections of the Internet as it works today will fall to the wayside. Waiting, not so quietly in the bushes, are AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and other giant “telecoms” who have already publicly announced their intentions to bulldoze today’s open and free Internet. Their plan is to rebuild it in their own image by creating a closed system in which the fastest and easiest access to content just happens to come from their own families of companies or from the highest bidders.
This dramatic and dangerous shift must be resisted. The tremendous strides of recent decades in democratic communication, the growth in entrepreneurial businesses, and the development of new media platforms haven’t occurred because of corporate control. Rather, the innovation-fostering architecture of openness and equal access is the driving force behind new and exciting synergies in the online world.
Fortunately, the movement for Internet freedom is growing stronger by the day. While it’s not surprising that the Bush administration’s FCC approved AT&T’s $86 billion request to merge with BellSouth, it is encouraging that a coalition of consumer groups was able to force AT&T to keep its Internet lines free of “gatekeepers” and to require it to abide by the pro-Internet freedom principle of “net neutrality.” While the merger itself raises other serious concerns, the agreement does set an important precedent and paves the way for Congress to act in 2007 to make net neutrality the law of the land.
In the weeks and months ahead, it is imperative that the 110th Congress carefully examine modern telecommunications policy and understand that the Internet has grown into a unique space that not only provides virtually every citizen with the opportunity to absorb information, but also with a free and endless palette on which to create. The American public benefits most from policy that preserves the Internet as a common marketplace in which both small and large businesses enjoy equal access to consumers and both Internet bloggers and media conglomerates can deliver their stories to readers.
Last year, Senators Snowe (ME) and Dorgan (ND) and Congressman Markey (MA) introduced legislation to codify Internet freedom and protect the marketplace of ideas. In 2007, it’s up to Congress to build upon those efforts and to act on behalf of the public good to preserve a fair, open and free Internet for every American – not just for a few big businesses.
Rob Thompson is a Consumer Advocate at NCPIRG
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