What if Verizon Could Censor Your Telephone Conversations: Why Net Neutrality Matters

if you were talking on the phone and Verizon or ATT decided they didn't like
where your conversation was going. You'd be in the middle of a sentence and
suddenly disconnected. Or maybe they didn't like the person you were talking
to, or the subject. You'd be unable to connect or your conversation would
become so slow and poor quality you'd give up and call someone else. Or maybe
you lived in an area of the country where they didn't want to give you
telephone service. So you'd be unable to call at all. The telecom companies
would justify all this by explaining that the fiber optic lines or wireless
frequencies were simply their private property. They had a right, they'd say,
to do whatever they wanted with them.

can't do this because telephone service has long been held to common access
standards. The Internet has similarly developed and flourished as a commons
open to everyone, through what we've come to call Net Neutrality. But Bush's
FCC ruled that all our new communications technologies were in a different
category, effectively the property of their physical carriers. In the wake of
this decision Verizon refused to distribute a text message alert from NARAL Pro
Choice America and AT&T muted singer Eddie Vedder's criticism of President
Bush during a live Pearl Jam webcast. The telecom companies are also pushing to
be able to sell the right for websites or applications whose owners wanted them
to load faster, while relegating other sites to second-class service. Such a
shift would devastate nonprofits, small businesses, and all kinds of political
advocacy groups, which couldn't afford the rates that the most lucrative sites
could pay.

As a
candidate Obama spoke out strongly for reversing this policy, promising to
"take a back seat to no one on Net Neutrality." His FCC appointees
were at first strongly supportive of extending the protections of equal access
to online technologies (which would make moot a federal court decision based on
the Bush-era rulings). But now, following massive telecom company lobbying,
they're seriously wavering. Google is now exploring a private deal with Verizon, where
Google would pay for YouTube content to get higher priority delivery to
consumers, shifting them from Net Neutrality advocate to de facto opponent.
With a final FCC ruling coming any day now, an equal-access internet is now in
serious jeopardy.

In the Soviet Union, cultural commissars determined who would
see what information and in what context. In the US, it's corporations, and their
choke-hold is about to get tighter unless we speak out and act. The fight to
keep Net Neutrality has produced some important victories as when MoveOn and
the Christian Coalition joined in an unlikely partnership to help block Congress from
destroying Net Neutrality four years ago. FreePress.net,
who's led on this issue all along, is now organizing now to help people speak
out before final FCC decision. But we'd better act while we still have a chance
if we don't want to be cut off in midstream from equitable access to all the
new media whose promise and power we've come to take for granted.

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