Thursday, September 28, 2006

Web Pioneer: No Internet Without Net Neutrality

Sir Tim
The man who invented the World-Wide-Web sees the phone and cable company plan to gut Net Neutrality as a looming threat to free speech and economic innovation in America. In a New York Times interview, Internet pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee said that the neutrality of the Net is "essential for democracy."

In the 1980s, Sir Tim first proposed the idea of linking documents with hypertext software pointers -- a concept that evolved, in the 1990s, into the World Wide Web.

Throughout 2006, Berners-Lee has spoken passionately in favor of protecting Net Neutrality. In yesterday's Times interview, he warned against companies, like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, that seek to remake the information superhighway into their private toll roads.

"I think the people who talk about dismantling — threatening — Net neutrality don’t appreciate how important it has been for us to have an independent market for productivity and for applications on the Internet," Berners-Lee said.

According to Berners-Lee, killing Net neutrality in the U.S. would put the country even further behind in the race to bridge the digital divide and bring cheaper, faster access and better economic opportunity to more people.

"[I]f the United States ends up faltering in its quest for Net neutrality, I think the rest of the world will be horrified, and there will be very strong pressure from other countries who will become a world separate from the U.S., where the Net is neutral," Berners-Lee told Times interviewer John Markoff.
"If things go wrong in the States, then I think the result could be that the United States would then have a less-competitive market where content providers could provide a limited selection of all the same old movies to their customers because they have a captive market."
Berners-Lee also clarifies the debate over service fees for special types of data, calling "not actually logical" people who say that Net Neutrality prevents "Quality of Service" upgrades:
"Some people say perhaps we ought to be able to charge more for this very special high-bandwidth connectivity. Of course that’s fine, charge more. Nobody is suggesting that you shouldn’t be able to charge more for a video-capable Internet connection. That’s no reason not to make it anything but neutral."
Berners-Lee echoes's position against discrimination on the Web. We don’t think that it's wrong for the network operators to be able to prioritize certain types of content. For instance, they can prioritize telemedicine over regular data files.

The Net Neutrality rules that we and Berners-Lee support concern stopping discrimination based on the source or ownership of content. If network operators favor one hospital's telemedicine site over another, that’s the problem. That’s when the network operators can turn the Web into their private fiefdoms, awarding fast-lane services to their corporate allies while shunting all others to a slow lane. Under this scenario, the free and open Internet no longer exists.

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