An open, egalitarian and transparent Internet is something that’s easy to take for granted these days. It’s almost ridiculous to imagine that any entity could succeed at taking away online freedoms we’ve come to accept as our birthright.
One of the basic tenants of net neutrality (the concept that the Internet should remain an open platform, and that limited government rules may be required to ensure this) is that large network services providers should not be allowed to restrict Web sites or discriminate against the type of data traveling through their systems.
Why would they want to discriminate or restrict Web traffic? For profit. As Al Gore said, telecommunication companies—like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner Cable—“have not been able to capture as much of the increased value of the Internet as they would like.” And they want to change that, of course.
The worry for years has been that these companies—who control the wires, towers and switching systems that make up residential broadband in America—could act against a free Internet by introducing tiers of access or charging Web sites fees to have their pages delivered faster.
But their chances of doing this are facing resistance. Lucky for us, a recent speech by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski promoted new and aggressive policies in support of net neutrality.
Basically, Genachowski has urged the FCC to formally adopt six principles of neutrality. Four of these were already in use; they stated, basically, that users can access any legal content or service as long as it doesn’t harm the network. But the two new rules—one that still must be adopted by the FCC—could be particularly powerful weapons in the fight to maintain net neutrality.
The new rules would formally prevent the telecommunication companies from restricting Web sites, and stop them from favoring certain content or applications over others. Also, providers would be forced to be transparent about how they run their networks.
It’s been no surprise that the telecommunication giants didn’t like hearing this and are kicking and screaming in protest of the chairman’s new agenda. A free and open Internet is simply not what these companies perceive to be in their best financial interest.
Genachowski believes we’re at a crossroads, a “policy moment” for the Internet. In fact, many see that the market for this medium will soon be shaped as it was for cable in the 1980s, television in the 1950s and radio in the 1930s.
If this is so, we’re lucky to have an aggressive proponent of net neutrality leading the government’s charge to maintain a free Internet.