TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: NY Times Editorial: Protecting Internet Democracy

NY Times Editorial: Protecting Internet Democracy

NY Times Editorial Desk (
Tue, 09 Jan 2007 12:14:22 -0600

Protecting Internet Democracy

One of the big winners in the last election may turn out to be the
principle, known as net neutrality, that Internet service providers
should not be able to favor some content over others. Democrats who are
moving into the majority in Congress -- led by Ron Wyden in the Senate
and Edward Markey in the House -- say they plan to fight hard to pass a
net neutrality bill, and we hope that they do. It is vital to preserve
the Internet's role in promoting entrepreneurship and free expression.

Internet users now get access to any Web site on an equal basis. Foreign
and domestic sites, big corporate home pages and little-guy blogs all
show up on a user's screen in the same way when their addresses are
typed into a browser. Anyone who puts up a Web page can broadcast it to
the world.

Cable and telephone companies are talking, however, about creating a
two-tiered Internet with a fast lane and a slow lane. Companies that pay
hefty fees would have their Web pages delivered to Internet users in the
current speedy fashion. Companies and individuals that do not would be
relegated to the slow lane.

Creating these sorts of tiers would destroy the democratic quality of
the Internet. Big, wealthy voices would start to overpower the smaller,
poorer ones. Innovation would be threatened if start-ups and small
companies could not afford the new fees. The next eBay or Google might
never be born.

A net neutrality law would require cable and telephone companies to
continue to provide Web sites to Internet users on an equal basis. Mr.
Markey, of Massachusetts, will be taking over a key subcommittee that
handles Internet issues. He has promised to hold hearings to educate
Congress and the public, and to reintroduce his strong net neutrality
bill. Mr. Wyden, of Oregon, plans to reintroduce an equally solid bill
in the Senate.

Passing the legislation will not be easy. The cable and telephone
companies have fought net neutrality with a lavishly financed and
misleading lobbying campaign, because they stand to gain an enormous
windfall. But there is growing support from individuals and groups
across the political spectrum, from to the Gun Owners of
America, who worry about what will happen to their free speech if
Internet service providers are allowed to pick and choose the traffic
they carry.

In the last week, there was a limited but important victory for net
neutrality. As a condition of approving the AT&T-BellSouth merger, the
Federal Communications Commission required AT&T to guarantee net
neutrality on its broadband service for the next two years. The
commission was right to extract this concession, but it should not be
necessary to negotiate separate deals like this one. On the information
superhighway, net neutrality should be a basic rule of the road.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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