The last few months have been critically important for the future of Internet freedom and access.
The concept of “network neutrality” has been so central to our experience of the Internet, and such a driving force for innovation and expression, that most of us have taken it for granted. This Op-Doc explains the basic idea: when you visit a website, the phone or cable company that provides Internet access shouldn’t get in the way. Information should be delivered to you quickly and without discriminating about the content.
Yet now the principle is under direct attack. On May 15, the Federal Communications Commission (whose chairman, Tom Wheeler, was formerly a leading lobbyist for the telecommunications industry) proposed troubling new rules: Internet service providers could split the flow of traffic into tiers, by offering priority treatment to big corporations who would pay higher fees. That would mean a fast lane for the rich and a dirt road for others, harming small businesses and users.
Meanwhile, telecom behemoths turn huge profits that increase their leverage. Through aggressive lobbying, they have managed to limit competition in 20 states.
In the meantime, the F.C.C. has asked the public to give their thoughts on the proposed new rules. More than 200,000 people have already done so (and comments are still being accepted).
While the concept of net neutrality seems complex, the solution is simple: We should classify broadband access as a utility. Internet providers should be considered common carriers, just as cellphone companies are for voice access,
which they are not allowed to block or degrade. The Internet should be a level playing field.
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