New York Times (pg. A24)  [Printer-friendly version]
May 2, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Giant corporations are planning to restrict
your use of the internet, giving speedy access to those who pay a
hefty fee, and slow unreliable access to the rest of us. It's
happening in Congress right now. Click here to send a message to
your Representative and Senators (you do not need to know their
names), saying you oppose corporate control of the internet. If you
favor equal access to the internet, speak up now.]

"Net neutrality" is a concept that is still unfamiliar to most
Americans, but it keeps the Internet democratic. Cable and telephone
companies that provide Internet service are talking about creating a
two-tiered Internet, in which Web sites that pay them large fees would
get priority over everything else. Opponents of these plans are
supporting Net-neutrality legislation, which would require all Web
sites to be treated equally. Net neutrality recently suffered a
setback in the House, but there is growing hope that the Senate will
take up the cause.

One of the Internet's great strengths is that a single blogger or a
small political group can inexpensively create a Web page that is just
as accessible to the world as Microsoft's home page. But this
democratic Internet would be in danger if the companies that deliver
Internet service changed the rules so that Web sites that pay them
money would be easily accessible, while little-guy sites would be
harder to access, and slower to navigate. Providers could also block
access to sites they do not like.

That would be a financial windfall for Internet service providers, but
a disaster for users, who could find their Web browsing influenced by
whichever sites paid their service provider the most money. There is a
growing movement of Internet users who are pushing for legislation to
make this kind of discrimination impossible. It has attracted
supporters ranging from to the Gun Owners of America.
Grass-roots political groups like these are rightly concerned that
their online speech could be curtailed if Internet service providers
were allowed to pick and choose among Web sites.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee defeated a good Net-neutrality
amendment last week. But the amendment got more votes than many people
expected, suggesting that support for Net neutrality is beginning to
take hold in Congress. In the Senate, Olympia Snowe, a Maine
Republican, and Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, are drafting a
strong Net-neutrality bill that would prohibit broadband providers
from creating a two-tiered Internet. Senators who care about the
Internet and Internet users should get behind it.


New York Times (pg. A14)
February 20, 2006

Editorial: Tollbooths on the Internet Highway

When you use the Internet today, your browser glides from one Web site
to another, accessing all destinations with equal ease. That could
change dramatically, however, if Internet service providers are
allowed to tilt the playing field, giving preference to sites that pay
them extra and penalizing those that don't.

The Senate held hearings last week on "network neutrality," the
principle that I.S.P.'s -- the businesses like Verizon or Roadrunner
that deliver the Internet to your computer -- should not be able to
stack the deck in this way. If the Internet is to remain free, and
freely evolving, it is important that neutrality legislation be

In its current form, Internet service operates in the same
nondiscriminatory way as phone service. When someone calls your home,
the telephone company puts through the call without regard to who is
calling. In the same way, Internet service providers let Web sites
operated by eBay, CNN or any other company send information to you on
an equal footing. But perhaps not for long. It has occurred to the
service providers that the Web sites their users visit could be a rich
new revenue source. Why not charge eBay a fee for using the Internet
connection to conduct its commerce, or ask Google to pay when
customers download a video? A Verizon Communications executive
recently sent a scare through cyberspace when he said at a
telecommunications conference, as The Washington Post reported, that
Google "is enjoying a free lunch" that ought to be going to
providers like Verizon.

The solution, as far as the I.S.P.'s are concerned, could be what some
critics are calling "access tiering," different levels of access for
different sites, based on ability and willingness to pay. Giants like could get very fast connections, while little-guy sites
might have to settle for the information superhighway equivalent of a
one-lane, pothole-strewn road. Since many companies that own I.S.P."s,
like Time Warner, are also in the business of selling online content,
they could give themselves an unfair advantage over their competition.

If access tiering takes hold, the Internet providers, rather than
consumers, could become the driving force in how the Internet evolves.
Those corporations' profit-driven choices, rather than users' choices,
would determine which sites and methodologies succeed and fail. They
also might be able to stifle promising innovations, like Internet
telephony, that compete with their own business interests.

Most Americans have little or no choice of broadband I.S.P."s, so they
would have few options if those providers shifted away from
neutrality. Congress should protect access to the Internet in its
current form. Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, says he intends
to introduce an Internet neutrality bill, which would prohibit
I.S.P.'s from favoring content providers that paid them fees, or from
giving priority to their own content.

Some I.S.P.'s are phone and cable companies that make large campaign
contributions, and are used to getting their way in Washington. But
Americans feel strongly about an open and free Internet. Net
neutrality is an issue where the public interest can and should trump
the special interests.

Copyright 2006 New York Times Company