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A Disturbing Vision for the Future of the Internet

The future for wireless internet looks upsettingly unregulated.
Chris Calabrese,
Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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September 13, 2010

The era that Net Neutrality supporters have long feared is here — major companies have begun divvying up the internet. Last month, Google and Verizon announced a “policy framework” of how the rules for the internet could work in the future. The framework is a disturbing vision for the future. Wireless internet — such as services delivered over smart phones — would be completely unregulated; companies would be free to prioritize their own services — for everything from music to video to chat — over those of competitors.

Telecom providers could also do whatever they want with managed services, like Verizon’s FIOS, that are offered directly to the companies but use the same wires and bandwidth as the regular internet. Regulators under this new framework would be neutered, reduced to policing a narrow area of consumer complaints with no power over vast swaths of the web. If these new rules are adopted, the regular internet will quickly become a backwater. All the investment and capital funding would go toward building up the managed services and wireless networks where the companies would have free reign to use their market power to make the most money.

All of this has enormous implications for all of us — not just as consumers but as citizens. The Internet is quite simply the tool for exercising our First Amendment rights. Not only does it give every one of us access to a worldwide audience, it also allow us to discover and expand our connections to other people, opens new vistas for freedom of the press and allows us to petition our government in new and exciting ways.

Individual bloggers can describe the effect of poverty and Hurricane Katrina. Protesters can tweet the location of protests in Iran. Websites dedicated to government accountability can widely disseminate their work. These actions are all predicated on a free and open internet where no one is barred access to particular sites, texts aren’t blocked because they’re controversial and companies can’t secretly degrade the performance of some web services (like Comcast did to BitTorrent).

In fact, net neutrality has always been the default for the internet. It wasn’t until 2005 that the courts and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stripped away this protection. Since that time, public interest groups and companies on both sides have fought a pitched battle at the FCC, in the courts and in Congress over what the rules should be. But we worry that a dangerous time is ahead for internet openness. After a recent court decision questioning FCC authority over the internet, large companies like Google and Verizon seem to be signaling that they think the time is ripe to begin dividing up the internet into pieces (wireless, managed services and the “public” internet) so they can maximize profits.

But this isn’t inevitable. The FCC is considering action this fall to regulate telecommunications providers so that they have to provide full, fair service to everyone with no discrimination or deals between companies.

Now’s the time for you to take action: Show your support for the FCC’s efforts to restore Net Neutrality.

(Originally posted at Care2.)

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