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Net neutrality

Net Neutrality still in the balance as the future of Internet freedom remains in doubt

Wednesday, August 23, 2006 by: NewsTarget
Tags: net neutrality, technology news, health news

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(NewsTarget) In an opinion article published in the Aug. 18 online edition of The Nation, columnist Jeffrey Chester warned that the internet's network neutrality -- a term that means all internet traffic would be treated equally -- is at risk from Congress as a new telecommunications bill passes through; a measure Chester said was brought about by "huge checks handed out by the country's top lobbyists."

While Chester thinks that the chances of the "Advanced Telecommunications and Opportunities Reform Act" (S.2686) passing is slim -- especially while certain members of the Republican Party are reluctant to oppose net neutrality with midterm elections so close -- he fears the bill's architect, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, will attempt to get it passed in September, despite drawing ridicule for equating the internet to a "system of tubes."

Chester said the bill could harm efforts to use digital media to foster democracy because it "not only precludes net neutrality safeguards but also eliminates local community oversight of digital communications provided by cable and phone giants."

The danger to civic participation, free information and competition is not mentioned in S.2686, Chester said, and neither were any regulations ensuring consumers pay a reasonable price for high-speed internet service. Chester referred to market analysis reports that revealed high-speed internet costs in the United States are already more than eight times what subscribers pay in Japan and South Korea, where internet speeds are faster.

Chester is also worried that the bill will open the door for the phone and cable lobbies, such as AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon, to establish a privatized, consolidated and unregulated communications system over which they would essentially have monopoly control. These companies, Chester noted, already control 98 percent of the U.S. high-speed internet market.

According to Chester, today's internet scares these industry giants because net neutrality affects their bottom line. Smaller phone and video providers continue to sell their products to customers at lower costs. To combat this, Chester said the phone and cable giants are trying to reconfigure the internet to optimize profits from "bundle deals" that offer savings for people who buy their internet access together with telephone and cable television services, thereby tapping into America's mass consumerist culture and squeezing out smaller companies.

The next step is for the phone and cable companies to try to create new rules of service for the internet, which will basically limit the range and quality of digital media to what subscribers can afford, Chester said. He added that policing programs would be implemented to make sure people were not accessing resources they cannot afford.

Standing in opposition to the bill are groups like Save the Internet (which Chester admits connections to), which has spurred many Democrats in the Senate to join the fight, such as Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oreg.; Sen. Byron Dorgen, D-N.D.; and even Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

Snowe's involvement is contrary to the opinions of some proponents of the bill, who Chester said have tried to suggest the uproar about internet freedom is "more partisan than substantive."

"Hampshire Republican Senator John Sununu claims that net neutrality is 'what the liberal left have hung their hat on,'" Chester said.

Members of the GOP are not the only ones who think the issue has been overblown, as Chester quoted AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre as calling it a "made-up issue." Some front groups have directed the debate toward fears of web site blocking, but Chester said that is not the real issue.

"The issue of blocking has been purposefully raised to shift the focus from what should be the real concerns about why the phone and cable giants are challenging federal rules requiring nondiscriminatory treatment of digital content," he said. "It's now time to help kill the Stevens 'tube' bill and work toward a digital future where internet access is a right--and not dependent on how much we can pay to 'admission control.'"


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