Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Net Neutrality May Soon Be a Thing of the Past

Today is Tuesday, December 21, so today is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. In the wake of a historic vote by the Commissioners of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this morning, today likely will be seen in retrospect as the darkest day in the history of the Internet. Despite campaign promises, and repeated statements after his inauguration supporting unfettered Net Neutrality, today, the FCC is poised to adopt a sweeping new set of regulations that threaten the independence and open freedom Internet users now enjoy.

Since its emergence in the 1990's as a public spin off from a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) research project called ARPAnet, the Internet has been freely accessible by every interested computer user with a means of connecting to it. While all Internet service providers (ISPs) have always charged users for their connections, the content itself has always been available free of charge. That may be threatened in the future.

Once implemented as proposed, the new regulations will make it easier for mobile service providers such as A T &T and Verizon to restrict or block access to web sites or services they deem to be in competition with similar services they themselves provide. As an example, a provider with its own video on demand service would be free to either severely restrict or completely block its customers from accessing Netflix’s instant streaming movies and TV show episodes. Other streaming video sites could be similarly affected.

Some of what is allowed under the new rules is already happening with some Cable TV/broadband Internet providers. My broadband service is provided by Cable One, a regional carrier located primarily in the Midwest and parts of the West. They never explain why to their customers, however, they have completely blocked access to ESPN’s on-line live game broadcasting option now called ESPN3.com (previously it was ESPN360.com), Under the proposed rules, actions such as these could easily become commonplace.

Another big area of concern – especially for mobile Internet customers – is media access. Currently, independent sites such as Newser, Alternet, Treehugger.com and the Huffington Post are the best of the corporation independent news websites that help to keep the Internet democratic by providing all of the hard news and fact-based opinion that the corporate media tries to suppress. Under the new rules, an ISP that is ideologically strongly conservative would be allowed to restrict or deny access to “unacceptable” web sites like these.

In time, I can see this access filtering extending to the blogosphere as well. This is why US Senator Al Franken (D-MN) sees this issue as “the most important free speech issue of our time” in a well written critique published on the Huffington Post website yesterday.

One strength of the Internet lies in its diffuse, largely unregulated, fiercely independent nature. There never has been a “central headquarters” for the net, and one must never be created. Corporate America wants the FCC to give its blessing to their goal of transforming the worldwide Internet into yet one more profit center for them, and into yet one more avenue through which they control what every human being on the planet sees, hears and believes.

If and when the FCC completes its action on this matter and posts the new rules on its website, I will have more to say on this matter. For now, I add my blogger’s voice to those who oppose regulatory moves aimed at trying to regulate that which defies regulation – the Internet.

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