Save the Web

You want to sound paranoid? Refer to anything as a conspiracy taking place among powerful players. High gasoline prices because of the Bush family’s relationships with Middle Eastern oil sheiks? Nut job. Too-consistent prices among cellular providers suggests price fixing? Tinfoil hat. Big business wrests control of the egalitarian Internet to improve its bottom line? Looney-tunes.

But the fact of the matter, especially when it comes to the last item, is that there’s proof absolute that this is beginning to happen.

In fact, the nation’s largest cable and telephone companies—the ones that control the wires, towers and switching systems that make up residential broadband in America—have been moving with new aggressiveness to establish themselves as gatekeepers on the Internet. As our recent cover story “World War Web” (SN&R Feature, April 10, 2008) explained, the telecoms—like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon—have not been able to make the profits they seek off of the vastly increased value of the Internet. And they’re moving to change that.

Now, people kill and die for money in this country every day, even for small amounts of it. But when it comes to the Internet (particularly when it comes to a tiered Internet on which the telecoms can exchange huge dollars to enhance or degrade the quality of content), we’re talking about sums most of us can’t even imagine—billions almost immediately, trillions over the years.

So, if we think these companies would hesitate to put $100 million into an ad and lobbying campaign to convince Congress and Internet users that it would be in their best interests to prevent the government from regulating the Internet, we’re crazy. Naive.

Democrat Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts introduced House Resolution 5353, the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act,” in Congress a few months ago. It would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to “preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of broadband networks that enable consumers to reach, and service providers to offer, lawful content, applications and services of their choosing.”

Few expect this bill to go very far. There are too many powerful forces aligned against it. But just as weak, individual fingers come together to form a fist, individual Internet users must come together to assimilate, understand and proclaim the need to preserve the Web as we now know it.

So get involved: Call your representative; inform your friends. We need an Internet that has enough regulation to prevent the giant telecommunication companies from changing its fundamental workings, but little enough regulation that the government can’t censor or favor one type of content or user over another. And that’s what “net neutrality” is all about. The greatest democratizing media in the history of the world must remain free.

Hey, just because we’re paranoid about giant corporations working behind the scenes to fill their own coffers while emptying the little guys’ pockets doesn’t mean they’re not out to get us.