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The End of Net Neutrality?

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If you haven't been following this big story about the future of Net neutrality, I'll try to lay it out as simply as I can.

Good Guys: Proponents of Net neutrality.

Bad Guys: The telecom giants who want to extract fees for service.

The Good Guys want to protect the Internet and keep it in the hands of folks like you and me. The Bad Guys want to control it and put it in the hands of big telecommunication corporations. Now, it's not that black and white of an issue, but for the most part the Bad Guys are looking to gain more, while the Good Guys (Google, -- still not great) want to protect what they already have.

Right now the Senate is heating up, with a vote likely to come down in the near future. A lot of our elected representatives have not come out one way or another on this important issue. This really is the future of the Internet we are talking about here. In the days ahead, if we abandon Net neutrality and some big honcho in New York City decides websites like this one arent worth putting on his companys search engine, or provider package, it could be lost.

These corporations very well could decide what is and what isn't available to be viewed on the Internet. They could price the little guys out. It could be like the Wal-Mart of the web. They could very well control most content, and pick what you can and cannot see, read or listen to. Itd be the end of Internet democracy in the United States, where all sites can be accessed.

There is quite an underhanded campaign going on now by a group called "Hands off the Internet," who claim to want to protect the Internet from regulators and Big Government. They are even running deceptive ads on blogs and other websites in hopes of pulling Internet readers into their camp. Some of the big names behind these cunning ads include AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon.

The co-chair of this group is the ex-spokesman for President Bill Clinton and other Democrats, Mike McCurry. And what a trickster McCurry is. He even writes a column over at the "liberal" Huffington Post from time to time. He claims Net neutrality will kill the Internet.

Fact is, it's Net neutrality that has gotten us this far. Yet he writes, "The Internet is not a free public good. It is a bunch of wires and switches and connections and pipes and it is creaky. You all worship at Vince Cerf who has a clear financial interest in the outcome of this debate but you immediately castigate all of us who disagree and impune our motives. I get paid a reasonable but small sum to argue what I believe."

So how much does this guy get paid? Well, not sure how much the big telecom giants are dolling out (hundreds of thousands, I'm sure), but he charges $10,000 and up per speaking gig. That's not a "small sum" in my book. And to think that the web isn't a "pubic good" is exactly the kind of thinking that has taken away our airwaves and put them in the hands of big corporations.

You know when you turn on your TV how there aren't thousands of channels at your disposal? That's because you have to pay for those channels, they aren't free -- even though you supposedly own the airwaves. The same thing could happen to the Internet if guys like McCurry have their way. You'd have to pay for access to the web, and each carrier would have much different ideas about what the web is. There would be different packages and different sites available per package. Sort of like cable TV vs. DirectTV. It would radically change the way the web works. And in the process it would likely leave out alternative blogs and news sites -- as they would have to pony up big bucks to have access to consumers. And even if they did, they might not make the cut. Somebody else could decide if its a site worth your time or interest.

The Internet is a work in progress, spearheaded by innovative and creative people, not big corporations. As the ol' adage goes: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
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Joshua Frank is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the brand new book Red State (more...)
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