New York Times (pg. A24), May 2, 2006
EDITORIAL: KEEPING A DEMOCRATIC WEB
[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 MoveOn.org 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 passed.
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 Walmart.com 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