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Help save the Internet! 

 

Google and Verizon's recently announced plan for "net neutrality" is an enormous disaster waiting to happen for regular, everyday Internet users — aka you and me. Luckily, it's not too late to stop it.

Much of the current controversy grew from the waffling and inaction on net neutrality by Charlottean, and former FCC Chairman, Kevin Martin, who during his tenure would make occasional noises in favor of neutrality, but then back off by delivering the usual Republican pro-business mantras. Martin's indecisiveness led to a garbled sense of "direction" from the FCC, and allowed Congress to call on Google and Verizon to work something out. Boy, did they ever.

Working together, the two technology giants, whom we'll call Googizon, claim their plan preserves net neutrality for Internet services, with the big exception of wireless networks. Critics have understandably jumped on Googizon's plan to turn wireless Internet service into their own personal profit center rather than the public "information superhighway" we've gotten used to. But a closer look at the proposal shows that it gives almost as much latitude to cable and DSL carriers, as pointed out recently by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL).

What the proposal means to ordinary Internet users is that if Googizon has its way, your carrier could start charging content providers, or, if they don't like the content, actually block content providers — or, and this is the real fear among Googizon opponents, they could turn the Internet into a "tiered access" system where those with big bucks will be able to buy fast connections, while the rest of us slog our way through cyber-quicksand.

The whole idea that website owners should be forced to pay carriers extra fees to guarantee fast connections turns Internet culture upside down. One of the best things about the Internet is its wide-open creativity, as well as the fact that Joe Citizen's little website has the same access to bandwidth as a behemoth like Walmart.com. Over the past decade-plus, that egalitarian quality has allowed formerly small startup sites such as YouTube, Secondlife, Facebook, Skype and hundreds of others to flourish. But you can kiss that kind of openness goodbye if Googizon gets its way. If that happens, sites with a big bankroll, say, Target.com, would get super-fast connections while small-fry sites that couldn't pay the toll would sluggishly chug along. This is so obviously unfair, you wonder where the Googles and Verizons of the world get the nerve to propose it. As technology writer Annalee Newitz suggests, "it would be like letting an electricity company cut a deal with GE so that only GE appliances got good current."

Who could be hurt by tiered access? It's a long list. Nonprofits, political advocacy groups, telecommuters, online purchasers who want a bargain, small businesses and bloggers would generally be out of luck. Folks who own iPods could find their access to iTunes slowed to a crawl while a company like Time Warner offered its Roadrunner clients a faster connection to a higher-priced, Time Warner-owned service. Your options as a consumer could be hindered by your Internet provider, which could offer the fastest service to companies that had ponied up the cyber-ransom money. Web innovators would be squashed like bugs in the path of big corporations with an interest in protecting the electronic status quo.

Fortunately, there is still time to stop Googizon's proposal from wrecking the Internet. The main thing working for consumers is the tradition of net neutrality — a central principle of the Internet, which holds that providers can't give any users special treatment, even at a price. Net neutrality has been so fundamental to the success of the Internet, even former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who usually sided with big business interests, described it as one of the basic rules of "Internet freedom" and the reason the Web has nurtured so much technological creativity.

The problem is that net neutrality has never been written into U.S. law, which means a tiered access system is still a possibility. Here's where you can do something about it. Let your members of Congress know that you're well aware of the net neutrality issue, and how you feel about it. If Googizon's proposal is approved, the Internet will become a bandwidth-to-the-highest-bidder affair, and everyone but mega-corporations will be SOL. Don't let that happen.

John Grooms is an award-winning writer and editor, teacher, public speaker, event organizer, cultural critic, music history buff and incurable smartass. He writes the Boomer With Attitude column, news features and book reviews, and contributes daily content to the CL news blog (www.theclogblog.com).

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