NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2007
Net Neutrality: It’s Time For Us To Speak Out!
By Linda Gonse, Editor,
Orange County IBM PC Users’ Group, California

Editor(at)orcopug.org (click to email author)

Obtained from APCUG with the author's permission for publication by APCUG member groups.

What is ‘Net Neutrality?
Briefly, "Net Neutrality" (short for Network Neutrality) is the guiding principle that preserves the free and open Internet. “It means no discrimination. Net Neutrality prevents Internet providers from speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination,” according to savetheinternet.com.

“Net Neutrality is the reason why the Internet has driven economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech online. It protects the consumer's right to use any equipment, content, application or service on a non-discriminatory basis without interference from the network provider. With Net Neutrality, the network's only job is to move data — not choose which data to privilege with higher quality service.”

Why is Net Neutrality an issue?
It’s an issue because it involves the transmission of data over broadband networks (e.g. DSL or cable internet services). As the number of sites on the Internet continues to grow and the quality of data becomes more sophisticated—encompassing video and audio files and other multimedia applications—broadband service providers (generally cable and phone companies) are seeking to regulate how material flows to users through their increasingly taxed networks. For most large providers, this has come down to one general desire: They could establish a tiered system of content delivery in which companies with data-heavy content can pay a fee to the providers in return for "special treatment" in transmission. However, advocates project, this also would allow large telecom companies to block or censor things they don't like without consequence.

Moreover, colleges worry that research and distance education could be left behind if broadband companies are allowed to favor certain content. (The implications go far beyond open access.) The Internet-for-hire has profound implications for education, library and publishing services in general. And, for users, there is either a future of poor service, or additional costs, or some combination of the two. Low and fixed income internet users’ would lose their access equality.

What is being done to preserve Net Neutrality?
In a nutshell, nothing permanent has been done to pass a law to ensure freedom of the Internet. It is still a gigantic struggle of ordinary Internet users, educational institutions, online companies—such as Amazon and Google—non-profit companies, and others, against the massive lobbying efforts of the largest telecommunication companies.

Events that have unfolded since Net Neutrality became a significant issue include:
“This past summer (2006), Congress took up the issue. Following a huge lobbying campaign by both sides, including millions spent by the cable and phone corporations, the House voted down an amendment to the Act that would have made the Federal Communications Commission responsible for enforcing neutrality. In the Senate, a similar amendment was defeated in committee, but net neutrality legislators managed to table a vote on the telecommunications bill indefinitely in hopes that they can somehow force the issue back to the forefront,” Bill Moyers, a respected news commentator and journalist, said on the PBS site at http://tinyurl.com/yhx7lz.

In January of this year, a bill was introduced by Senators Olympia Snowe and Byron Dorgan to amend the Communications Act of 1934, which will ensure all content is treated equally and fairly on the Internet. The law also requires providers to offer consumers broadband Internet access that is not bundled with other services like phone, cable or VoIP. The title of their bill is the Internet Freedom Preservation Act.

In March, the discussion over Internet governance continued on Capitol Hill. All five FCC commissioners testified in front of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

In May, the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee: 20-13.
In a June 2007 report, the Federal Trade Commission urged restraint with respect to the new regulations proposed by network neutrality advocates, noting the "broadband industry is a relatively young and evolving one," and given no "significant market failure or demonstrated consumer harm from conduct by broadband providers," such regulations "may well have adverse effects on consumer welfare, despite the good intentions of their proponents."

We've already had a taste of what can happen if telecommunication companies are handed authority to create tiered service and to have authority over what users can access. Before any decisions have been made, AT&T censored lyrics critical of Bush twice this month during Pearl Jam webcast concerts! http://tinyurl.com/2gqv4n This foreshadows what we can expect if Net Neutrality is not made into law permanently.

Pearl Jam appears to feel the same way. "AT&T's actions strike at the heart of the public's concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media,” they said. Bill Moyers provides background and details on the subject at: http://tinyurl.com/hfyb3. A video segment from Moyers on America PBS show, titled "The Net at Risk,” illustrates the remarkable, but unlikely, cross-section of allies on the issue at http://tinyurl.com/yuylej There are also links to several articles and videos on the main page of our website: http://www.orcopug.org

What can you do to support Net Neutrality?
Internet Neutrality advocates are pushing for people to sign an online petition. One of them is at: http://action.freepress.net/campaign/savethenet. The petition says: Congress must preserve a free and open Internet. Please vote for enforceable network neutrality and keep tollbooths, gatekeepers, and discrimination off my Internet.

California Senators Boxer and Feinstein do not accept email from constituents sent through third party sites. So, people should email legislators directly, in addition to adding another name to the online petition so the numbers can be used for clout by Save The Internet.com, FreePress.com, and openinternetcoalition.com, who support the legislation. Boxer and Feinstein are already "believers" but it helps to let them know that the base on this issue is widespread.

The SavetheInternet.com Coalition is more than a million everyday people (partial list of members) who have banded together with thousands of non-profit organizations, businesses and bloggers to protect Internet freedom. The Free Press is a national, nonpartisan organization working to reform the media. Through education, organizing and advocacy, it promotes diverse and independent media ownership, strong public media, and universal access to communications. The OpenInternetCoalition represents consumers, grassroots organizations, and businesses working in pursuit of keeping the Internet fast, open and accessible to all Americans.

You can find contact information for legislators throughout the U.S. at: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/home/

People can read Google's Guide to Net Neutrality for Google Users at: http://www.google.com/help/netneutrality.html and, they should also sign up to receive updates about Internet Neutrality from one of the sites supporting this legislation, such as http://www.savetheinternet.com/.

Once people understand the issue of Internet Neutrality, supporters should inform others about the threat to this essential freedom, and encourage their involvement.

Finally, people who believe in an open Internet need to be aware that organized supporters fighting big telecommunication businesses need money to continue and to win the fight that affects us all. https://secure.freepress.net/05/net_neutrality -- even small donations will help this cause.

This article has been provided to APCUG by the author solely for publication by APCUG member groups. All other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

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