By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The closing of the Internet

An enormous threat to everyone’s media future is playing out in Congress this week. As I wrote in March, executives of the giant broadband companies are trying to talk government regulators into letting them discriminate in favor of Internet services that are willing to pay for the privilege of having their data move at ever faster speeds.

According to this article from InternetWeek, “The House Judiciary Committee’s Task Force on Telecommunications and Antitrust is holding a hearing Tuesday on whether the Internet should operate like a utility, with equal service, or whether providers should be able to provided tiered access and pricing.”

Here’s a good video overview of what’s at stake.

Save the Internet, a coalition headed by the progressive group Free Press, puts it this way:

Congress is pushing a law that would abandon Network Neutrality, the Internet’s First Amendment. Network neutrality prevents companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from deciding which Web sites work best for you — based on what site pays them the most. Your local library shouldn’t have to outbid Barnes & Noble for the right to have its Web site open quickly on your computer.

Net Neutrality allows everyone to compete on a level playing field and is the reason that the Internet is a force for economic innovation, civic participation and free speech. If the public doesn’t speak up now, Congress will cave to a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign by telephone and cable companies that want to decide what you do, where you go, and what you watch online.

Sorry for this long cut-and-paste job, but Save the Internet continues with a frightening list of ways that this could harm all of us. It’s worth reading in full:

Google users — Another search engine could pay dominant Internet providers like AT&T to guarantee the competing search engine opens faster than Google on your computer.
Innovators with the “next big idea” — Startups and entrepreneurs will be muscled out of the marketplace by big corporations that pay Internet providers for dominant placing on the Web. The little guy will be left in the “slow lane” with inferior Internet service, unable to compete.
Ipod listeners — A company like Comcast could slow access to iTunes, steering you to a higher-priced music service that it owned.
Political groups — Political organizing could be slowed by a handful of dominant Internet providers who ask advocacy groups to pay “protection money” for their websites and online features to work correctly.
Nonprofits — A charity’s website could open at snail-speed, and online contributions could grind to a halt, if nonprofits can’t pay dominant Internet providers for access to “the fast lane” of Internet service.
Online purchasers — Companies could pay Internet providers to guarantee their online sales process faster than competitors with lower prices — distorting your choice as a consumer.
Small businesses and tele-commuters — When Internet companies like AT&T favor their own services, you won’t be able to choose more affordable providers for online video, teleconferencing, Internet phone calls, and software that connects your home computer to your office.
Parents and retirees — Your choices as a consumer could be controlled by your Internet provider, steering you to their preferred services for online banking, health care information, sending photos, planning vacations, etc.
Bloggers — Costs will skyrocket to post and share video and audio clips — silencing citizen journalists and putting more power in the hands of a few corporate-owned media outlets.

Longtime media activist Jeff Chester writes on his blog:

We all know what AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, et al really want: to help their tired old media monopoly business model gain a faster hold over the broadband digital marketplace. That’s the reality. And if we permit that to happen the “Reality” will be harmful to consumers, seniors, educators and everyone else who desires a America that reflects our highest aspirations as a culture. Not some dumbed-down, meter always running, and ‘we’re data collecting on you,’ AT&T/Verizon/USTA Internet.

Chester also worries that big companies that are allied against the broadband providers, such as Google (notwithstanding the example offered by, Microsft and Yahoo!, aren’t necessarily all that committed to the battle. After all, simply by paying a fee that they could easily afford, they could shut out competitors, both present and future.

What can you do? On the Save the Internet Web site, you can find out where members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee stand, as well as send an e-mail to members of Congress. is running an online petition campaign as well.

This threat is very real.

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1 Comment

  1. Neil

    Yikes–if this keeps up we might have to go out and get real jobs!

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