My aunt emailed me this week asking about a article posted on MoveOn.org. I normally avoid anything done by MoveOn.org, but I agree with their stance on Network Neutrality. Basically, there is a move in Congress to grant phone and cable companies the ability to treat their network traffic differently based on how well they like the people sending the data. Popular Mechanics sums up the plan in these words:

Whether you’re a casual Internet user, or an always-on, hardcore Web junkie, this concerns you. It’s time to have a talk about “network neutrality.” It’s been a subject of a lively debate in the blogosphere, and it’s percolating into the news media. Network neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs, the telephone and cable companies that deliver the internet to you fresh daily) should keep all content—from tiny personal blogs to giant corporate sites—equally accessible: I.E., the way it is now.

Enter Congress, which is currently considering legislation—the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement (COPE) Act of 2006—that may change the Internet from the wide-open, egalitarian universe of free-flowing information that it is now, to a place where the guy with the biggest bucks has the loudest voice. If passed, it would allow phone and cable companies to charge content providers (websites) for the privilege of driving along the ISPs stretch of the info super highway (usually the last mile right before content ends up on your screen). If content companies can’t pay the fees, they end up in the slow lane — and you get to wait and wait and wait. Or maybe you won’t get to use those sites at all.

Section 8 of Article I of the Constitution grants Congress the authority to “fix the Standard of Weights and Measures,” and Congress is exercising that responsibility when they establish any set of industry standards, like making sure that a pound of butter is the same as a pound of nails. Because of the gulf of technology between the 21st Century and the Founding Fathers, I doubt they would know the difference between an internet or an inner-tube. But I think the Founding Fathers could recognize that Congress would be overstepping its responsibility if they specified that the butter manufacturing industry could use a 15-ounce pound while forcing the nail makers to use a 16-ounce pound measurement. A standard is exactly that: standard and uniform for all who use it. And the Internet’s TCP/IP protocol is a standard that makes no distinction over who has paid more to the phone or cable companies, or coughed up sufficient contributions to members of Congress. I can understand the urge Congress has to meddle, but they should keep their fumbling hands off the Internet.

There are many sites that are championing the fight to keep the Internet neutral as far as prioritizing the data it carries. I like Save The Internet the best of the half-dozen I’ve visited. From their FAQ section comes these chilling examples of how companies have already violated Network Neutrality.

Isn’t the threat to Net Neutrality just hypothetical?

No. So far, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. But numerous examples show that without network neutrality requirements, Internet service providers will discriminate against content and competing services they don’t like.

  • In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service.
  • In 2005, Canada’s telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labor dispute.
  • Shaw, a big Canadian cable TV company, is charging an extra $10 a month to subscribers in order to “enhance” competing Internet telephone services.
  • In April, Time Warner’s AOL blocked all emails that mentioned www.dearaol.com — an advocacy campaign opposing the company’s pay-to-send e-mail scheme.

This type of censorship will become the norm unless we act now. Given the chance, these gatekeepers will consistently put their own interests before the public good.

The MoveOn.org site is not bad, but they are failing to understand one critical truth about Congress: sending an email message to your Representative, your Senators, and the President is never as effective as typing up a letter on good paper. So don’t email Washington D.C. — write to them. You can look up your Representative with your Zip Code at House.gov, and your two Senators at Senate.gov. President Bush can be reached at the following address:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

So get cracking.

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