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San Jose Mercury News Endorses Net Neutrality

May 17, 2006 , ,

The San Jose Mercury News ran a great editorial today on Net Neutrality, called “Saving Internet Equality.”

One hopes Sen. Boxer will quote it at tomorrow's Senate Commerce hearing. Normally, we wouldn't quote the whole thing. But this is an exception. Here's the text:

Saving Internet equality

Mercury News Editorial

The future of the Internet is in the hands of Congress, and Congress is about to mess it up.

The choice facing lawmakers is stark: keep the Internet as a decentralized network that no single company controls and where all users and all Web sites are treated equally; or hand control over it to an oligopoly of cable and telephone companies.

Shamefully, Congress appears inclined to do the latter by refusing to adopt so-called “network neutrality'' rules. It's a choice that would be disastrous for Internet users, for Internet companies and for innovation itself.

Network neutrality isn't new. Its basic tenets — that all users can access all legal content on the Internet and that all content providers are treated the same on the network — have been in effect since the birth of the Internet through regulations governing the old telephone network. But a series of court decisions and a vote of the Federal Communications Commission last year have voided those rules. And that has opened the door for phone and cable companies, which control Internet access, to change the rules of the game.

Phone companies such as AT&T and Verizon have already made it clear that they want to divide the Internet into slow and fast lanes. Web sites and services that pay them a toll will travel on the fast lane, while others will bump along on the slow lanes.

Telecom executives' first target is large, profitable Internet companies such as eBay, Google and Yahoo, which AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre has described as freeloaders. “What (Internet companies) would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them do that,'' he said.

But this is far more than a battle between Internet giants and telecom giants. Google and Yahoo may well be able to pay, but the impact on start-ups — and innovation — would be devastating.

Consider the nascent world of Internet video, which promises to be a free-for-all of ingenuity and creativity. With enough bandwidth, CNN, a public access channel or an amateur video producer could put up content for the entire Internet to enjoy. Scores of innovative start-ups are coming up with business models to exploit that creativity, by organizing the new content, making it searchable and delivering it effectively to millions of users.

But if cable and telephone companies become traffic cops and toll collectors, they will be in a position to decide which shows go on the fast lane and which get stuck in a lane too slow to be watched. That would turn Internet video into an online version of the cable system, where an intermediary controls the delivery of all content. The explosion in creativity would be snuffed out and the innovative start-ups and business models would never see the light of day.

Future technologies and industries could suffer the same innovation-crushing fate.

Outside the Bay Area, few lawmakers seem to understand that by not enacting network neutrality legislation, they'd be subverting the basic principles that have made the Internet into such a powerful force for economic growth. Perhaps, it's because they've been worn down by armies of lobbyists from the telephone and cable industries.

It's time for online users everywhere — those who search on Google, download songs from Apple, buy books from Amazon, run businesses on eBay, make phone calls on Skype or simply read e-mail and surf the Web — to let them know the Internet is too valuable to be sold off to special interests.