Open Tech Today - Top Stories

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hillary Clinton Backs Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is about to get another high profile backer -- Senator Hillary Clinton. According to The Raw Story, Senator Clinton will issue a press release announcing her intention to co-sponsor a net neutrality bill in Congress. It's something to sing about. But . . . net neutrality is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue. It is more important than political partisanship, which is why it is encouraging that the latest effort on Capitol Hill is a bi-partisan bill.

Net neutrality touches every person who uses the Internet, whether they know it or not.

Surf the Internet, search for things, buy music, read news and post blogs. We never notice that net neutrality defines the Internet as we know it. It's true. You type a website address -- ANY website address -- and it loads as fast as your Internet connection can load it. That website you want does not load slower than others simply because its owner did not pay the telco/cable company an extra fee for fast delivery. All websites are treated equally. Google's search, the BBC's news,, even my blog -- all load equally fast. That's net neutrality.

One key issue, implied but not explained in Senator Clinton's statement, is that net neutrality is perfectly consistent with the growth of broadband. Telco/cable arguments to the contrary are specious. Net neutrality has been the status quo since the Internet began. It has not obstructed or slowed broadband in any way. Yes, we have a broadband problem in the U.S. -- penetration should be higher and prices lower. But the problem is not net neutrality. The problem is that broadband is basically controlled by an oligopoly in the U.S. Look at South Korea. Highest broadband access in the world, and net neutrality has created no obstacles. Rather, broadband is treated like vital public infrastructure.

This is how the U.S. (and other countries) should see it. Broadband networks are the infrastructure of innovation for the 21st Century. We cannot afford to allow a handful of companies divide content, websites and service providers into classes based on the prices they pay these network owners.

Nobody knows where the next transformative innovation will come from. Not me. Not you. And certainly not Verizon or AT&T. And so, we should do everything possible to maintain the Internet's open, non-discriminatory architecture. This will allow innovative content and web services to launch, grow and find customers, whether it comes from Google, Microsoft, AOL or two students in their dorm room (who might not be able to afford the premium fees that telco/cable commpanies plan to charge for delivery of content in the "fast lane").

Rock stars (from music or politics) backing net neutrality helps raise its profile. But more people need to join the debate and understand the stakes involved for all Internet users. We already got Moby, which leads to the obvious question . . .

Where's Bono?

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