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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Guarantee net neutrality

The information superhighway that is the internet has been an equal opportunity route. A local shop's web page isn't shunted into the slow lane while Mega Corporation's blows by in the express. Each is entitled to use the same path at the same speed.
Federal legislation is needed to ensure internet providers, primarily phone and cable companies, don't undermine that equality. There is a danger that internet providers will charge extra for faster transmission of websites or services, leaving those unwilling or unable to pay to lag behind. There also is a danger that providers might block sites or services because of content.
Internet providers say they would never do such things. They say that even if one company did, competition would ensure "net neutrality," as the wonkish call it.
These assurances are nowhere near enough of a firewall against net discrimination. Competition isn't robust enough in many places to guarantee protection. And providers already have tried to treat some net users differently.
Last year an Associated Press investigation confirmed that Comcast was hindering file sharing by some subscribers. Also last year Verizon blocked text messages sent by an abortion rights group until a public outcry forced the telecom to reverse position. And three years ago the Federal Communications Commission fined a rural telephone company for blocking its DSL customers from making phone calls over the internet.
Equal access is vital. It has been a key ingredient in the web's fostering of creativity and technological and economic growth.
Unfortunately, the FCC has failed to aggressively counter threats to network neutrality. A strong federal law is essential to make it clear to both internet providers and regulators that internet democracy cannot be restricted.
Bills now in Congress take two general approaches. One would require the FCC to strictly enforce neutrality. The other would allow government antitrust suits against providers that fail to treat all users equally. But combining the two strategies would provide by far the most effective protection.
Internet neutrality is one of those rare issues that has united unusually diverse groups, from the Gun Owners of America to the Christian Coalition. And for good reason. Congress should adopt a comprehensive net neutrality law this year.

Original here

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