Network Neutrality

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: 'Network Neutrality', the concept that everyone on the net should be given equal use of network facilities is a very interesting concept. At first glance, I would say I agree with it, yet the telcos, notably AT&T (SBC by its other name) and the larger ISPs (America OnLine for example) seem to be fighting it for various reasons. The editorial comment which follows comes from the Move On people, who, IMO were dreadfully off-base in their comments last week (and again today as a passing comment in this latest piece) also seem to favor network neutrality. Quite some time ago, I suggest that (again, IMO) the ICANN people, given their druthers, would tend to favor 'large corporations' rather than the small, everyday internet user. I would appreciate _your_ thoughts on this topic of Network Neutrality, as it has come to be known. First, here are the thoughts of the Move On people, then I will print responses in the days to come from readers. PAT]

--------- Move On Commentary follows --------

Google, Amazon, MoveOn. All these entities are fighting back as Congress tries to pass a law giving a few corporations the power to end the free and open Internet as we know it.

Tell Congress to preserve the free and open Internet today.

Dear MoveOn member,

Do you buy books online, use Google, or download to an Ipod? These activities, plus MoveOn's online organizing ability, will be hurt if Congress passes a radical law that gives giant corporations more control over the Internet.

Internet providers like AT&T and Verizon are lobbying Congress hard to gut Network Neutrality, the Internet's First Amendment. Net Neutrality prevents AT&T from choosing which websites open most easily for you based on which site pays AT&T more. Amazon doesn't have to outbid Barnes & Noble for the right to work more properly on your computer.

If Net Neutrality is gutted, MoveOn either pays protection money to dominant Internet providers or risks that online activism tools don't work for members. Amazon and Google either pay protection money or risk that their websites process slowly on your computer. That why these high-tech pioneers are joining the fight to protect Network Neutrality (1) -- and you can do your part today.

The free and open Internet is under seige-can you sign this petition letting your member of Congress know you support preserving Network Neutrality? Click here:

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Then, please forward this to three friends. Protecting the free and open Internet is fundamental -- it affects everything. When you sign this petition, you'll be kept informed of the next steps we can take to keep the heat on Congress. Votes begin in a House committee next week.

MoveOn has already seen what happens when the Internet's gatekeepers get too much control. Just last week, AOL blocked any email mentioning a coalition that MoveOn is a part of, which opposes AOL's proposed "email tax." (2) And last year, Canada's version of AT&T-Telus-blocked their Internet customers from visiting a website sympathetic to workers with whom Telus was negotiating. (3)

Politicians don't think we are paying attention to this issue. Many of them take campaign checks from big telecom companies and are on the verge of selling out to people like AT&T's CEO, who openly says, "The internet can't be free." (4)

Together, we can let Congress know we are paying attention. We can make sure they listen to our voices and the voices of people like Vint Cerf, a father of the Internet and Google's "Chief Internet Evangelist," who recently wrote this to Congress in support of preserving Network Neutrality:

My fear is that, as written, this bill would do great damage to the Internet as we know it. Enshrining a rule that broadly permits network operators to discriminate in favor of certain kinds of services and to potentially interfere with others would place broadband operators in control of online activity ... Telephone companies cannot tell consumers who they can call; network operators should not dictate what people can do online.(4)

The essence of the Internet is at risk-can you sign this petition letting your member of Congress know you support preserving Network Neutrality? Click here:

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Please forward to 3 others who care about this issue. Thanks for all you do.

-Eli Pariser, Adam Green, Noah T. Winer, and the Civic Action team

Thursday, April 20th, 2006

P.S. If Congress abandons Network Neutrality, who will be affected?

a.. Advocacy groups like MoveOn-Political organizing could be slowed by a handful of dominant Internet providers who ask advocacy groups to pay "protection money" for their websites and online features to work correctly.

b.. Nonprofits-A charity's website could open at snail-speed, and online contributions could grind to a halt, if nonprofits can't pay dominant Internet providers for access to "the fast lane" of Internet service.

c.. Google users-Another search engine could pay dominant Internet providers like AT&T to guarantee the competing search engine opens faster than Google on your computer.

d.. Innovators with the "next big idea"-Startups and entrepreneurs will be muscled out of the marketplace by big corporations that pay Internet providers for dominant placing on the Web. The little guy will be left in the "slow lane" with inferior Internet service, unable to compete.

e.. Ipod listeners-A company like Comcast could slow access to iTunes, steering you to a higher-priced music service that it owned.

f.. Online purchasers-Companies could pay Internet providers to guarantee their online sales process faster than competitors with lower prices-distorting your choice as a consumer.

g.. Small businesses and tele-commuters - When Internet companies like AT&T favor their own services, you won't be able to choose more affordable providers for online video, teleconferencing, Internet phone calls, and software that connects your home computer to your office.

h.. Parents and retirees - Your choices as a consumer could be controlled by your Internet provider, steering you to their preferred services for online banking, health care information, sending photos, planning vacations, etc.

i.. Bloggers-Costs will skyrocket to post and share video and audio clips-silencing citizen journalists and putting more power in the hands of a few corporate-owned media outlets. To sign the petition to Congress supporting "network neutrality," click here:

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P.P.S. This excerpt from the New Yorker really sums up this issue well.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, as a national telephone network spread across the United States, A.T. & T. adopted a policy of "tiered access" for businesses. Companies that paid an extra fee got better service: their customers' calls went through immediately, were rarely disconnected, and sounded crystal-clear. Those who didn't pony up had a harder time making calls out, and people calling them sometimes got an "all circuits busy" response. Over time, customers gravitated toward the higher-tier companies and away from the ones that were more difficult to reach. In effect, A.T. & T.'s policy turned it into a corporate kingmaker.

If you've never heard about this bit of business history, there's a good reason: it never happened. Instead, A.T. & T. had to abide by a "common carriage" rule: it provided the same quality of service to all, and could not favor one customer over another. But, while "tiered access" never influenced the spread of the telephone network, it is becoming a major issue in the evolution of the Internet.

Until recently, companies that provided Internet access followed a de-facto commoncarriage rule, usually called "network neutrality," which meant that all Web sites got equal treatment. Network neutrality was considered so fundamental to the success of the Net that Michael Powell, when he was chairman of the F.C.C., described it as one of the basic rules of "Internet freedom." In the past few months, though, companies like A.T. & T. and BellSouth have been trying to scuttle it.

In the future, Web sites that pay extra to providers could receive what BellSouth recently called "special treatment," and those that don't could end up in the slow lane. One day, BellSouth customers may find that, say, loads a lot faster than, and that the sites BellSouth favors just seem to run more smoothly. Tiered access will turn the providers into Internet gatekeepers.4


  1. "Telecommunication Policy Proposed by Congress Must Recognize Internet Neutrality," Letter to Senate leaders, March 23, 2006
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  2. "AOL Blocks Critics' E-Mails," Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2006
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  3. "B.C. Civil Liberties Association Denounces Blocking of Website by Telus," British Columbia Civil Liberties Association Statement, July
27, 2005
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  1. "At SBC, It's All About 'Scale and Scope," BusinessWeek, November
7, 2002
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  1. "Net Losses," New Yorker, March 20, 2006
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  2. "Don't undercut Internet access," San Francisco Chronicle editorial, April 17, 2006
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    [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: So what are your thoughts? America OnLine (for one) has stated they do not intend to tamper with the existing newsgroups, etc. On this point, MoveOn was dead wrong last week. Now, on this latest variarion on the same idea, I myself do not know what to think. PAT]
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Patrick Townson
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