Thursday, June 08, 2006

SavetheInternet in the Washington Post

Just in time for the upcoming House vote on Net Neutrality, the Washington Post has printed a no-nonsense op-ed by charter members Lawrence Lessig of Stanford Law School, and Robert McChesney of Free Press.

The message of "No Tolls on the Internet" is loud and clear: Congress can not ignore the public outcry and vote to hand control of the Internet to the of cable and telephone cartel.

Here's what Lessig and McChesney had to say:

The protections that guaranteed network neutrality have been law since the birth of the Internet -- right up until last year, when the Federal Communications Commission eliminated the rules that kept cable and phone companies from discriminating against content providers. This triggered a wave of announcements from phone company chief executives that they plan to do exactly that.

Now Congress faces a legislative decision. Will we reinstate net neutrality and keep the Internet free? Or will we let it die at the hands of network owners itching to become content gatekeepers? The implications of permanently losing network neutrality could not be more serious. The current legislation, backed by companies such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, would allow the firms to create different tiers of online service. They would be able to sell access to the express lane to deep-pocketed corporations and relegate everyone else to the digital equivalent of a winding dirt road. Worse still, these gatekeepers would determine who gets premium treatment and who doesn't.

Their idea is to stand between the content provider and the consumer, demanding a toll to guarantee quality delivery. It's what Timothy Wu, an Internet policy expert at Columbia University, calls "the Tony Soprano business model": By extorting protection money from every Web site -- from the smallest blogger to Google -- network owners would earn huge profits. Meanwhile, they could slow or even block the Web sites and services of their competitors or those who refuse to pay up. They'd like Congress to "trust them" to behave.

Evidence that telephone companies are trustworthy is in extremely short supply, as members Free Press, Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America noted in our "Facts vs. Fictions" report to Congress two weeks ago.

Lessig and McChesney compare AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth's plans to the cable-ization of the Web:

Without net neutrality, the Internet would start to look like cable TV. A handful of massive companies would control access and distribution of content, deciding what you get to see and how much it costs. Major industries such as health care, finance, retailing and gambling would face huge tariffs for fast, secure Internet use -- all subject to discriminatory and exclusive dealmaking with telephone and cable giants.

And they also offset the faux-organizing of the deceptive industry front groups against the genuine grassroots efforts of our coalition:

The smell of windfall profits is in the air in Washington. The phone companies are pulling out all the stops to legislate themselves monopoly power. They're spending tens of millions of dollars on inside-the-Beltway print, radio and TV ads; high-priced lobbyists; coin-operated think tanks; and sham "Astroturf" groups -- fake grass-roots operations with such Orwellian names as Hands Off the Internet and

They're opposed by a real grass-roots coalition of more than 700 groups, 5,000 bloggers and 750,000 individual Americans who have rallied in support of net neutrality at . The coalition is left and right, commercial and noncommercial, public and private. Supporters include the Christian Coalition of America,, National Religious Broadcasters, the Service Employees International Union, the American Library Association, AARP and nearly every consumer group. It includes the founders of the Internet, the brand names of Silicon Valley, and a bloc of retailers, innovators and entrepreneurs. Coalitions of such breadth, depth and purpose are rare in contemporary politics.

It's a clarion call for our elected representatives to wake up to the public outcry and make the right decision for the future of the Internet. Read Lessig and McChesney's full piece.

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