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26 June 2007

Free Internet Is Under Threat

When we log onto the Internet, we take a lot for granted. We assume we'll be able to access any Web site we want, whenever we want, at the fastest speed, whether it's a corporate or mom-and-pop site. We assume that we can use any service we like — watching online video, listening to podcasts, sending instant messages — anytime we choose. Network Neutrality — or "Net Neutrality" for short — is the guiding principle that preserves the free and open Internet.
Net neutrality, which is part of the telecommunications bill working its way through the U.S. Congress, is not a simple subject. In the first place, there are different definitions of the term. In addition, consumers and companies will take both sides of the argument, depending on whether they are receiving or sending content - and that role can change from hour to hour.

But it boils down to this:

If you are "for" net neutrality - as are Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and eBay - you believe that the Internet is a public resource that should be used to convey data "neutrally." In other words, a bit is a bit, whether it is part of someone's e-mail, an Internet voice conversation or a pirated movie, and whether it travels by slow-speed dial-up phone lines or ultra-fast fiber-optic lines.

If you are "against" neutrality, like Cisco, AT&T, Verizon - you believe that companies should be able to offer more, faster or special content and services over the Internet to some customers for a higher price, much like cable TV operators do. (Either that or you think the government should not legislate on it, letting the marketplace decide how to price, send and prioritize packets.)

The consequences of a world without Net Neutrality would be devastating. Innovation would be stifled, competition limited, and access to information restricted. Consumer choice and the free market would be sacrificed to the interests of a few corporate executives.

On the Internet, consumers are in ultimate control — deciding between content, applications and services available anywhere, no matter who owns the network. There's no middleman. But without Net Neutrality, the Internet will look more like cable TV. Network owners will decide which channels, content and applications are available; consumers will have to choose from their menu.

The free and open Internet brings with it the revolutionary possibility that any Internet site could have the reach of a TV or radio station. The loss of Net Neutrality would end this unparalleled opportunity for freedom of expression.

The Internet has always been driven by innovation. Web sites and services succeeded or failed on their own merit. Without Net Neutrality, decisions now made collectively by millions of users will be made in corporate boardrooms. The choice we face now is whether we can choose the content and services we want, or whether the broadband barons will choose for us.

Here is the video that explains it all:

Or from the words of the inventor of the Internet, founder of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and one of the leading voices of Net Neutrality:

"When I invented the Web, I didn't have to ask anyone's permission. Now, hundreds of millions of people are using it freely. I am worried that that is going end" - Sir Tim Berners Lee.

And this is my tribute:

They took the code for your new technology.
Rewrote the laws with no Net Neutrality,
and now we understand it's no longer free.

Inspired by the lyrics of "Video Killed the Radio Star" with apologies to The Buggles.

What can I do to help?

  1. Sign the petition.
  2. Call your members of Congress today and demand that Net Neutrality be protected.
  3. Encourage groups you're part of to sign the "Internet Freedom Declaration of 2007"
  4. In your own words, tell the FCC why you need a free and open Internet.
  5. Show your support for Internet freedom on your Web site or blog.
  6. Tell your friends about this crucial message before it's too late. Only 20 days left!

This post was written by Michael Beck from Digital Nomads. Information via STI and IHT. If you are interested in contributing to the thinking process and become a guest writer on The Thinking Blog, find out more information here and be my guest!

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