The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new rules tomorrow to protect net neutrality. The new rules should boost small businesses competing in the electronic marketplace and bolster free speech for everyone on the Internet.
Net neutrality is the principle that, if you go to access a Web page or download a file, your Internet service provider will feed you that content at the same speed, regardless of what that content is or who produced it. In other words, if you're a Knology customer, Knology should transmit KELO's online news and weather to your computer at the same thousands or millions of bits per second as it transmits data from KSFY, KDLT, or SDPB. Sure, video will take longer to download than a simple text blogpost, but 100MB should take just as long to download no matter who the source is. Under net neutrality, no content and no content provider gets special treatment.
Some big companies don't like net neutrality. Big telecoms like AT&T and Comcast would prefer to give special treatment to the highest bidders and block competitors from their networks. The telecoms would prefer to run the information superhighway like a private system of toll roads. Imagine if our highways were all managed by private contractors. A pavement version of AT&T (Asphalt, Tar, & Trucks?) might give exclusive contracts for use of I-90 to Wal-Mart and other big shippers, relegating the rest of us to travel the slower back roads to the Black Hills. Small companies would struggle to break into the market, since their bigger, established competitors could buy up most of the highway capacity (think bandwidth) and make it prohibitively expensive for competitors to deliver their goods and services to customers down the road. Plus, the smaller companies would lose customers who don't want to sit around waiting for a product that takes eight hours to deliver from Sioux Falls to Rapid City via Highway 34 when they can go with the bigger company whose only advantage is the ability to deliver a similar product in five hours via I-90.
We don't give any private business or citizen preferential treatment in using our highways. We had the same deal with telephone companies: Qwest should connect your call to Grandma or Glenn Beck as quickly as your call to Greenpeace or Verizon.
The same should be true of the Internet. Online communication is the backbone of modern economic growth. Continued growth and competition depends on every entrepreneur having equal access to the Internet... a network created, we should recall, by the government, just like the great Eisenhower Interstate System.
Online communication is also essential now for citizen participation and activism. Everybody from Tea Partiers to little old me can use the Internet to act as government watchdogs, mobilize supporters, and argue for truth, justice, and our visions of the American way. Abandoning net neutrality and excluding low bidders from bandwidth would make it easier for well-funded voices to crowd out the little guys (also known as us).
Big corporations and moneyed political parties already have enough advantages in the marketplaces of goods and ideas. Net neutrality is one small but vital guarantee that the rest of us can use the Internet for the commercial, political, and personal purposes we see fit.
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