Internet Freedom On the Line
On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission is set to vote on new rules that critics say could allow media conglomerates to decide whose content gets to be seen on the Internet and whose doesn’t. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is said to have the votes he needs to pass net neutrality regulation.
Internet freedom advocates are blasting Genachowski and the Obama administration for reneging on a campaign promise that candidate Obama made, saying he would protect the Internet from corporate meddling. But, the proposed rules – which haven’t been made public – would let telecommunications companies block or slow down Web content accessed through wireless devices, advocates complain. Mobile devices, like smartphones and iPads, are poised to become the dominant medium through which people access the Web.
Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, who has been a tireless advocate for net neutrality, wrote in The Huffington Post this morning that no less than our free speech and right to information is at stake:
For many Americans — particularly those who live in rural areas — the future of the Internet lies in mobile services. But the draft Order would effectively permit Internet providers to block lawful content, applications, and devices on mobile Internet connections.
Mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless would be able to shut off your access to content or applications for any reason. For instance, Verizon could prevent you from accessing Google Maps on your phone, forcing you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it costs money to use and isn’t nearly as good. Or a mobile provider with a political agenda could prevent you from downloading an app that connects you with the Obama campaign (or, for that matter, a Tea Party group in your area).
It gets worse. The FCC has never before explicitly allowed discrimination on the Internet — but the draft Order takes a step backwards, merely stating that so-called “paid prioritization” (the creation of a “fast lane” for big corporations who can afford to pay for it) is cause for concern.
It sure is — but that’s exactly why the FCC should ban it. Instead, the draft Order would have the effect of actually relaxing restrictions on this kind of discrimination.
Everyone who uses the Internet should make this issue a top priority. I can imagine a world where there is no protection against discrimination on the Internet, where the Web is no longer the dynamic and fascinating medium it is now. A world where people can only get the same old, tired crap offered on television and terrestrial radio. A world where dissent is drowned out or blacked out in favor of corporate propaganda and innovation is squashed in favor of ossification. A world where you may no longer get to read this blog. Hopefully, these new rules can be struck down, which is what an Internet law expert, interviewed below, predicts:
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