Catholic bishops among concerned about no safeguards for equal Web
access in new telecom bills
By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) In the era of regulated utilities, residents and
businesses alike knew what the charges would be for electricity,
natural gas and telephone service.
With an unregulated Internet, though, individuals seeking Internet
content and businesses and organizations hoping that users will click
on their sites may wind up paying huge fees to Internet service
providers before much longer.
Current telecommunications bills working their way through Congress
have no safeguards for "net neutrality," which allows any user equal
access to any Web site.
Net neutrality short for 'network neutrality' is the policy of keeping
the Internet open to all lawful traffic by requiring that cable and
telephone companies operate their Internet networks in a
nondiscriminatory manner. It bars those companies from prioritizing
Internet traffic to benefit their own content.
With no safeguards for net neutrality, religious groups, including the
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, fear that Internet service
providers will discriminate against them and charge them if they want
to get the same level and speed of service they now receive for their
online sites when someone types in their Web address.
Since the Federal Communications Commission deregulated the broadcast
airwaves about 20 years ago, the amount of religious content on those
airwaves has shrunk dramatically as radio and television broadcasters
have used the time once set aside for "public service" programming --
including televised Masses -- for profit-making endeavors,
The fear is that recent FCC actions allowing large phone companies to
offer Internet services in a deregulated environment will have the
same effect on religious content on the Web.
If the Internet evolves into a "pay-to-play" situation, religious and
other noncommercial Web sites would have to pay fees to have their Web
sites open to users as easily as those of large commercial entities
– if they could afford to pay such fees.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said he would try to get a
telecommunications bill passed when Congress reconvenes after the
November elections for a "lame duck" session. The Senate version of
the bill currently has no provision mandating net neutrality. He told
National Journal's Technology Daily that the net neutrality issue was
"destroying this bill."
He added, "No one can tell me what net neutrality is other than
something that a few big companies want," adding that if the bill
fails over this issue "the people who blocked it will pay a terrible
The man credited with being the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir
Tim Berners-Lee, told The New York Times in a telephone interview that
net neutrality deserves to be protected.
"Net neutrality is one of those principles, social principles,
certainly now much more than a technical principle, which is very
fundamental," he said. "The neutrality of the Net is a medium
essential for democracy, yes if there is democracy and the way
people inform themselves is to go onto the Web."
A group called Save the Internet says on its Web site it has collected
the names of nearly 1.15 million people who want net neutrality
preserved. The organization also says its coalition has 783
organizations, including the Christian Coalition of America, the
Interfaith Center for Social Justice, the Office of Communication of
the United Church of Christ, and Spirit Restoration Ministries. Also
allied with the coalition are nonprofit organizations, small
businesses, Internet service providers and individual Web sites.