Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The People's Right to Google Shall Not Be Infringed

"In Cyberspace, the First Amendment is a local ordinance."
~John Perry Barlow (EFF)

How do you feel about your cable company? Do they give you the warm fuzzies? Do you like the way they set up your choices of what you can watch in packages so you can't choose exactly what you want, but what they want you to have? Do you like how much they charge you? Now, how would you feel if your Internet Service Provider (ISP) changed your service so that it was set up, in a sense, like cable TV? So that for instance, if your favorite search engine is Google, they only offered Yahoo and you were stuck with it. And if you used iTunes, they'd only give you the choice of Rhapsody or Napster? What if they could prevent you from using Myspace or Ebay? Would that kind of suck?

There is a bill in congress right now that would do precisely that. Many of you may already know about it from other blogs, myspace.com, or Moveon.org, and have already been to savetheinternet.com. Everyone should. This bill, should it become law, would give the major corporations who provide internet service the power to decide what you can access and what you can't. They would be able to slow down, meaning give less bandwidth, or block entirely, sites on the web they didn't want you to use. Conversely they could speed up, give greater bandwidth to sites they want you to use. If your provider is AT&T, one of the forces behind this bill, and they develop their own search engine, then they might have a vested interest in keeping you from using Google. Or they could force Google to pay them, beyond what they already pay for bandwidth, to provide fast access to their service. They could force you to use Yahoo if Yahoo paid them what essentially amounts to a kickback, or extortion depending upon which side you view it from.

This proposed law would completely destroy what has been called the first amendment of the Internet, a principle called Net Neutrality. Network neutrality means that providers have to allow equal access to every site on the web. Whether it's Microsoft's or a site with pictures of your cat. It assures that every site is equal on the internet. And that affects more than where you can surf on the web. It affects everyone with a presence on the web who doesn't have big bucks to pay to insure they get preferential treatment. Arianna Huffington has a interesting piece on net neutrality and the terminology used to publicize this fight, compared to the newspeak used by the Bush administration to sell their agenda with terminology like the Global War on Terror. She's got links to others who are speaking out as well.

If you're a small business, or a professional with a web site; if you have a Myspace account, or a blog, you should be concerned about this new law. It gives these corporations the power to literally silence anyone whose voice they don't like on the web. It would give them the power to censor the web. If your blog complains about AT&T, they could virtually shut you down. It will make the playing field uneven. The next set of innovators, like the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, or like the founders of Ebay, would not have the same ability to compete and to innovate on the web that they have now. New ideas would be stifled before they start. Without the big bucks to pay for the same access as established sites, their ideas would be banished to the backwaters of the web where no one could find them.

The big corporations who support this new law, companies like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and BellSouth say that they should be able to charge big bandwidth users a surtax for the extra demand they put on the system. They say they could use the money to build more capacity for the next generation internet for rich media and applications, such as video, movies, and games. But the big users of the system already pay for it when they pay per gigabyte for bandwidth. Why would these companies need to be able to restrict anyone's access to anywhere on the web to achieve that goal? If bandwidth charges aren't enough, charge more.

You Gotta Fight for Your Right To iTunes!
Since Al Gore invented it (actually he had more to do with it than you might think), the internet has become most democratic system not only in existence, but in history. This medium belongs to the people and their right to it should be protected, not given away by congress. It was originally funded by public money. Specifically the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). The internet was developed over many years without a governing body, by essentially volunteers who came together across many differing fields. From academia and technology and the world community at large to make it what it is. And it is precisely its nature as a decentralized, non-hierarchical system that makes it so powerful. Much of the software which makes the world wide web possible was collaborative and open source. The original Mosaic browser, Linux, the Apache web server, today's Mozilla browser and many other. The internet and the web are a kind of organized anarchy that works.

All this we call the internet and world wide web was created, essentially through cooperation by people around the world. Now corporate interests want to come in and take control of it. Everyone who uses the web, everyone who blogs, everyone who uses Myspace, literally everyone but those behind this power grab, has an interest in seeing this law voted down. We cannot let them turn the web into cable TV. Visit savetheinternet.com now and find out what you can do to stop this law from passing. Spread the word to everyone you know who uses the web.

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