What’s at Stake? Public Access to News and Information
A brief overview of the issue by JA’s Tram Whitehurst
On February 16, several Republican Senators introduce a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act to repeal net neutrality regulations adopted by the Federal Communications Commission last year.
The following day, the House of Representatives voted to prevent the FCC from implementing the controversial new rules that would govern the flow of traffic over the Internet. The rules, known as network neutrality, would affect such companies as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, because they own the networks over which the Internet often flows.
The net neutrality law meant they would be barred from discriminating as to what content flows over the Web.
The House also recently voted to pass the federal budget bill for 2011, which included an amendment defunding any attempt by the Federal Communications Commission to regulate Internet Service Providers.
Politicians, ISPs, and net neutrality advocates have all made arguments on one side or the other:
“Three primary arguments are made by the champions of the free market and deregulation. First, they say, it is expensive to run a large Internet backbone, and new technologies such as YouTube are dramatically increasing pipeline requirements. Second, some data traffic is more important or time-sensitive, and ISPs, not government regulators, are best positioned to assign priorities to data traffic. Third, the government cannot be trusted to regulate the Internet, and any government regulation could lead down a slippery slope of government censorship and control.” – Truthdig
“Congress today has taken an important step toward rolling back onerous regulations adopted by the FCC that destroys the ‘hands off’ approach that has allowed the Internet to grow and flourish. It is vital that we take a stand to overturn the FCC’s action, which will make our nation less competitive because countries in Europe and Asia are choosing not to inhibit their broadband networks with such restrictions. I encourage all my colleagues in the Senate and House to support this crucial piece of legislation.” – Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
“This arcane proceeding under the “Congressional Review Act” would strip the Federal Communications Commission of its authority to speak freely online… at a time when phone and cable giants are already restricting our ability to connect with others and share information. The resolution is moving quickly through the House. If their resolution passes, the FCC would not just be barred from enforcing its already weak Net Neutrality rule, but also from acting in any way to protect Internet users against corporate abuses by AT&T, Comcast and Verizon. This is not a symbolic congressional exercise — it’s a scorched-earth campaign that leaves Americans at the mercy of a corporate cartel.” – Tim Karr, Save the Internet
The implications of a world without net neutrality for online news Web sites and consumers are immense.
As Free Press has noted, “The biggest cable and telephone companies would like to charge money for smooth access to Web sites, speed to run applications, and permission to plug in devices. These network giants believe they should be able to charge Web site operators, application providers and device manufacturers for the right to use the network. Those who don’t make a deal and pay up will experience discrimination: Their sites won’t load as quickly, and their applications and devices won’t work as well. Without legal protection, consumers could find that a network operator has blocked the Web site of a competitor, or slowed it down so much that it’s unusable…What does that mean? It means we could be headed toward a pay-per-view Internet where Web sites have fees. It means we may have to pay a network tax to run voice-over-the-Internet phones, use an advanced search engine, or chat via Instant Messenger. The next generation of inventions will be shut out of the top-tier service level. Meanwhile, the network owners will rake in even greater profits.”
This ‘tollbooth’ approach to Internet access would tend to favor larger companies, which could better afford to pay the bills for access.
For giant media companies such as NBC/Comcast, it would make it easier to dominate smaller Internet startups. MSNBC and Fox News could afford to pay extra for the rapid delivery of rich, interactive media. Most newspapers could not, forcing them to choose between deeper debt and a worse user experience. Citizen journalists and exciting nonprofit experiments would also be muted by ISPs.
“As more and more news and information moves online, we need to ensure that the flow of information on the Internet is free and unencumbered. With Net Neutrality we can support newspapers’ transition to the digital era, and at the same time foster a new cadre of voices online. Net Neutrality ensures that innovative local news websites and nonprofit reporting projects can be accessed just as easily as legacy media sites. Net Neutrality encourages journalists to pioneer new tools and modes of reporting and lowers the bar for citizens to participate. It is about creating a level playing field for all voices.” – Josh Stearns, Free Press
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