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Attacking Net Neutrality Once Again


150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>Last week, Verizon, the telephone giant, went to court to accuse the Federal Communications Commission of "overstepping its authority" and reverse the authority's over-step. It's a legal wrangle that, bottled and distributed, would be a safe substitute for sleeping pills.

150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>Lurking behind the nearly unintelligible and ridiculously referential courtroom arguments, however, is a clear picture of the difference between the corporate vision of the Internet's future and the way the rest of us want it. At this point, corporations are pouring resources into imposing their vision of the Internet and, if they do, there won't be an Internet as we know it.

150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>This is the debate around net neutrality, one of those terms everyone's heard but most of us don't really completely understand.

"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial;color:black”>Major telecommunications companies (like Verizon and Comcast) say they should be able to charge you more money for being able to access certain kinds of content through their broadband connections and are pushing for the right to "scale" their systems with different prices for different levels of access. It's sort of like cable television: you rent the cable hook-up (and pay for it monthly) and the company gives you access to certain channels. If you want to watch the latest movies or sports or other "interest specific" channels, you pay an additional monthly fee for a "package" that includes those channels.

"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial;color:black”>That, in fact, is the very purpose of the Internet and so Internet activists have always been fierce in defending it [2]. Part of the problem is that, technologically, if a company has the power to block certain content (like movies), it has the power to block any content (like your website) and that's a power Internet activists don't want us to give up.

"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial;color:black”>In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission approved an Open Internet Order prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or discriminating against Internet content. In short, it supported "net neutrality". About a year later, Verizon sued the FCC claiming that the commission had over-stepped its authority because its order treated broadband providers as "common carriers". That's the term used to refer to private companies that provide infrastructure: electricity, railroads and — you guessed it — telephone companies. The idea is that these companies provide a basic service people need to carry on reasonably productive lives. As of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Internet service providers (the people who put you on line) had been treated by the government as "common carriers".

"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial;color:black”>That argument convinced the Bush-appointed FCC to start treating these companies as "information providers", a type of company, like cable companies or AOL, that is far less regulated. After that decision, the FCC couldn't regulate broadband as a "common carrier" industry and so the regulations to protect its neutrality didn't seem to fit. That was one of the many nightmares the Bush Administration left us with and Barack Obama publicly promised to fix it when he got elected.

"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial;color:black”>And that's why Verizon went to court. The FCC, Verizon argued, was going way past the acceptable regulations [3] for "information providers". Again, using the example of your cable TV service, there is no way the government is going to tell Comcast that it has to provide all content for the same price. As an "information provider", it is legally allowed to scale pricing.

"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial;color:black”>In fact, no matter what happens, any ruling that goes against the companies is going to be litigated for a very long time. That's because what's at stake is much more critical than what's actually being litigated. As is often the case with these legal battles, the dust corporate lawyers kick up clouds the real and important issues in play.

"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial;color:black”>The companies' answer would be that, to ensure innovation and development in technology, we have to make money and we can make a whole lot of it on Broadband usage. That's a crock because most innovation and development happens–often on the basis of government/taxpayer-funded research — before companies get involved and start investing money (which is usually used mainly for marketing). But few in the media, and no one in the court, is going to confront these giants with these fundamental untruths.

"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial;color:black”>Rather they are saying that the fact that they put you and keep you on the Internet gives them the right to decide how you can use it, where you visit, how much email or web browsing you do. That they insist they won't restrict simple Internet use for most people shouldn't be an issue because we establish rights to protect us against what powerful companies can do and not against what they say they're planning to do.

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Arial;color:black”>So the question is: Do you trust huge corporations to protect your access to all the information you need and want? Do you trust them to protect your ability to give everyone else access to information you want to spread?

"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:
Arial;color:black”>While the "net neutrality" debate may seem like a jargon-filled conversation between technologists and free speech advocates, it's really about you and your ability to read what others are writing and write so that others may read it. It's that important.

150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-bidi-font-family:Arial;color:black”>[1] http://www.savetheinternet.com/net-neutrality-101
[2] http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/12/steve-wozniak-to-the-fcc-keep-the-internet-free/68294/
[3] http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrydownes/2013/09/11/what-verizons-net-neutrality-challenge-is-really-about/
 

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