The ACLU Answers the Key Questions
Don't let the big telecoms trade your free speech for their own profit
The Internet has become so much a part of the lives of most Americans that it is easy to imagine that it is immune to change – that it will always remain the free and open medium that it is now. But there are no such guarantees.
If the telecommunication companies have their way, "Net Neutrality" could be a thing of the past; profits and corporate objectives could determine what you see and how you see it. Some of the strongest supporters of net neutrality lost their seats in the recent election, so telecom lobbyists will have more power than ever.
Don't let it happen. Learn more about Net Neutrality and get the tools you need to help us fight to keep a free and open Internet.
...– Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, and other companies. When we send or receive data over the Internet, we expect those companies to transfer that data from one end of the network to the other. Period. We don't expect them to analyze or manipulate our data. But new developments have made it possible for the telecoms to do just that – and unless the FCC takes action to codify the openness of the Internet, they will.
... online – web sites, e-mail, videos, Internet phone calls, or data generated by games or social networks. And they can program the computers that route that information to interfere with the data flow by slowing down or blocking traffic and communicators that they don't like (and speeding up traffic they do like).
Imagine if the phone company could mess with your calls every time you tried to order pizza from Domino's, because they cut a financial deal with Pizza Hut.
...Internet providers from doing the online equivalent. In fact, Internet companies actually have a much greater rangeof options for interfering with our communications than the phone companies ever had.
... makes them look bad, block applications that compete with their own, or increase their profit by forcing developers to pay more to avoid having their data blocked or slowed down.
...or distorted in important but subtle ways. Second, competition among broadband Internet providers is very weak; most Americans don't have more than a handful of Internet Service Provider options at home. That's not enough competition to keep companies honest.
...in order to preserve its freedom and openness. Common carriage prohibits the owner of a network from discriminating against information by halting, slowing, or otherwise tampering with the transfer of any data (except for legitimate network management purposes such as easing congestion or blocking spam).
Important Fact: Common carriage is not a new concept – these rules have a centuries-old history. They have long been applied to facilities central to the public life and economy of our nation, including canal systems, railroads, public highways, and telegraph and telephone networks. In fact, common carrier rules have already been written into the Telecommunications Act of 1996 by Congress; they just need to be applied to broadband Internet communications by the FCC.
...to net neutrality principles. As incidents of abuse have accumulated, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has shown increasing interest in enforcing the openness on the Internet, which has helped keep the carriers honest so far.
But! All that changed in April 2010 when a major court decision stripped the FCC of its power to enforce network neutrality protections under the regulatory framework it was using. That decision left the path wide open for the telecom companies to begin exploiting technologies by monitoring and controlling data sent via their networks – an unprecedented situation.
...from enforcing network neutrality principles. It was blocked from doing so because it had classified broadband carriers as "information services" as defined in the 1996 Telecommunications Act. However, that classification never made sense; broadband carriers always fit much better under the law's definition of "telecommunications services." To remedy this, all the FCC has to do is reclassify Internet carriage as a "telecommunications service," which would automatically subject online communications to common carrier protections. The FCC has already issued a formal notice that it was considering doing just that. However, furious corporate lobbying has thus far prevented the agency from doing so.
...time. In this day and age, it is pretty much impossible to get through life without using the Internet – which is why it's essential that our free speech rights are protected both on- and offline. After all, freedom of expression isn't worth much if the forums where people actually make use of it are not themselves free.
That is why the ACLU – a tireless defender of free speech and First Amendment rights for nearly a century – has long supported network neutrality. The ACLU has been a principal participant in almost every Internet censorship and neutrality cases that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court in the past two decades and we will continue to be vigilant on this issue.
Take action! Congress is threatening to use a procedural mechanism, the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn rules recently adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to protect Net Neutrality. Tell lawmakers to leave the FCC's open Internet rules in place and work to expand Net Neutrality protections.
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|FreePress: What Is "Net Neutrality?"
What's all the fuss about? Imagine if big companies could control what you do, see, or say on the Internet. Watch this video on the basics of this vital issue and how it affects you. (Created by SavetheInternet.com, a coalition of everyday people working with organizations, businesses, and bloggers to protect Internet freedom.)
|Obama: "I'm a Big Believer in Net Neutrality"
During the State of the Union YouTube follow-up interview on February 1, 2010, President Obama again expressed strong commitment to Net Neutrality. Watch, share, and talk about Net Neutrality -- Protecting a free Internet protects your Free Speech.
> FTC Releases Promising Report Urging Improved Internet Privacy Policies 12/1/2010
> New ACLU Report Calls On FCC To Take Action To Protect Openness On The Internet 10/19/2010
> Network Neutrality 101 - Why the Government Must Act to Preserve the Free And Open Internet 10/19/2010
> Net Neutrality - Web Toolkit
Broadband providers have both the incentive and the ability to interfere with the Internet. That hasn't stopped network neutrality opponents from claiming that the threat is "theoretical," or that applying time-honored common carrier principles to the Internet is a "solution in search of a problem." In fact, there have already been numerous incidents of abuse:
AT&T's jamming of a rock star's political protest. During an August 2007 performance by the rock group Pearl Jam in Chicago, AT&T censored words from lead singer Eddie Vedder's performance. The ISP, which was responsible for streaming the concert, shut off the sound as Vedder sang, "George Bush, leave this world alone" and "George Bush find yourself another home." By doing so, AT&T, the self-advertised presenting sponsor of the concert series, denied viewers the complete exclusive coverage they were promised. Although Vedder's words contained no profanity, an AT&T spokesperson claimed that the words were censored to prevent youth visiting the website from being exposed to "excessive profanity." AT&T then blamed the censorship on an external Website contractor hired to screen the performance, calling it a mistake and pledging to restore the unedited version of Vedder's appearance online.
Comcast's throttling of online file-sharing through BitTorrent. In 2007, Comcast, the nation's largest cable TV operator and second largest ISP, discriminated against an entire class of online activities in 2007 by using deep packet inspection to block file transfers from customers using popular peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent, eDonkey, and Gnutella. Comcast's actions, which were confirmed in nationwide tests conducted by the Associated Press, were unrelated to network congestion, since the blocking took place at times when the network was not congested. Comcast blocked applications that are often used to trade videos — pirated content but also much legitimate content. Critics noted that Comcast hopes to sell online video itself. The FCC subsequently took action against Comcast for this abuse; Comcast stopped the throttling but also challenged the order in court and won, leading to a crisis in enforcement of network neutrality.
Verizon Wireless's censorship of NARAL Pro-Choice America. In late 2007, Verizon Wireless cut off access to a text-messaging program by the pro-abortion-rights group NARAL that the group used to send messages to its supporters. Verizon stated it would not service programs from any group "that seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users." Verizon Wireless reversed its censorship of NARAL only after widespread public outrage.
Telus' blocking of striking workers' web site. In 2005, the Canadian telecom, involved in a bitter labor dispute, blocked its Internet subscribers from accessing a website run by the union that was on strike against Telus.
So far these incidents have been just that — incidents. This kind of behavior has not yet become broadly accepted or "baked in" to the structure of the Internet. But without enforceable network neutrality rules in place, that could quickly happen. And the consistency of these abuses tells us all we need to know about what will happen if companies are permitted to exploit their power over our Internet connections.