Imagine you are driving your familys Toyota Camry down an interstate highway, heading to grandmas house for Thanksgiving. You approach a tollbooth, roll down your window and prepare to throw in your quarters.
But before you can, the tollbooth worker says, "Sorry, sir. This section of the turnpike is under new management. We only allow non-freight-carrying domestic cars on this stretch of road. But if you pay an extra $50, I could point you to that side road over there, the one thats backed up for miles. Youll get through there eventually."
If that sounds preposterous, it would be—on the U.S. interstate highway system. But on the Internet, such a scenario is becoming more possible by the day, thanks to the large telephone companies and the Federal Communications Commission.
Telcos such as AT&T and Verizon want to charge premium access fees for different types of content according to media type or priority. They believe they are entitled to charge such fees because they maintain the networks that carry the traffic.
If the telcos have their way, the result will be bad for users, and bad for business. While all sorts of Internet traffic does run on networks built by AT&T, Verizon and others, these companies own neither the Internet nor the bits that run on it. They should not be allowed to discriminate against any type of access, usage or content.
With proposals such as those of the telcos being considered by Congress, the very future of the Internet is up in the air. Nonetheless, few citizens, outside of a few small advocacy groups, are well-informed about whats at stake. "Our communications system, and our democracy, is at a crossroads," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, at the Freedom2Connect conference April 3 in Washington.
But, as eWEEK Senior Editor Caron Carlson reports, efforts by such groups to air their views with the FCC and lawmakers are meeting with deaf ears.
"I get this look [from staffers that says], Ive made up my mind; please do not confuse me with the facts because theyre very confusing," said Cynthia de Lorenzi, former CEO of the ISP PatriotNet, based in Fairfax, Va. Meanwhile, a recent U.S. House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet vote went in favor of the deep-pocket telcos.
Lawmakers and policy-makers must understand that the Internet is part of the critical infrastructure of the country and the world. Walling it off, segregating content or creating "private" Internets undermines the function of the Internet and its ability to disseminate information in an unfettered manner.
We urge Congress to carefully weigh the views of all parties as the future of Internet traffic is debated. We believe in an Internet of the people, by the people and for the people. If the Internet is going to work at all, it must work for all.
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