Senate to Vote on Giving Internet Governance to Comcast, AT&T

Update: The Senate voted against turning the Internet over to Comcast, AT&T, and other major carriers. How did your Senators vote?

The US Senate began debating network neutrality yesterday - the historic governing principle of the Internet that ISPs should not be allowed to tell their users where they may or may not go and should not prioritize some connections over others merely because it generates more revenue for the ISP.

As Al Franken has said several times, this is the 1st amendment for the Internet - protecting everyone's speech. It prevents a few massive companies (or even local governments where they offer access to the Internet) from exerting too much influence over what subscribers are able to do on the Internet.

Unfortunately, many Senators are campaigning against this principle, in part because they have been misinformed as to what it means and in part because they are getting a ton of campaign cash from corporations that recognize how much more profitable they would be if they could charge users extra to go to YouTube.

There will be a vote today on a resolution of disapproval for the mild network neutrality rules proposed by the FCC last December (which the FCC Chairman chose to water down in part because he thought it would be less controversial -- FAIL).

We would like to recognize some of those who have stood up to protect the open Internet, starting with Free Press.

The American Sustainable Business Council authored an op-ed:

The truth is that if we want to make sure small businesses can grow with the assistance of broadband, the Internet must remain open. We must, as the FCC says, “ensure the Internet remains an open platform—one characterized by free markets and free speech—that enables consumer choice, end-user control, competition through low barriers to entry and freedom to innovate without permission.”

Senator Kerry made an impassioned plea for not turning the Internet over to Comcast and AT&T:

So they're trying to say to the American people that they want to liberate the Internet when, in fact, what they want to do is imprison the Internet within the hands of the most powerful communications entities today to act as the gatekeepers who will control the ability of the Internet to do the very kind of development that brought us here.

...

But the reason we have a Google today, the reason we've had this incredible development of Internet retail business, of all of these web sites, of Facebook and so many more is because of the open architecture of access to that Internet. Which, I would remind everybody in America, was created by government money in government research.

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Everything that goes over the Internet today goes either through your telephone at home or television or whatever, through cable, out of your house or the airwaves. But if we're not having an open architecture on the Internet, then the people who control those access points can start discriminating about who gets access at what speed. And if you control who gets access at what speed and begin to charge more for that, you begin to have a profound impact on the ability of any business to develop and a profound impact on the access that consumers have come to anticipate with respect to the Internet.

Minnesota's own Senator Al Franken gave a great speech in addition to publishing an article about the importance of net neutrality:

This isn't a radical concept - it's what each and every one of us experiences every time we use the Internet. Right now, an e-mail from a friend arrives in your inbox just as quickly and reliably as an advertisement from Amazon.com. Consumers can go online and make a reservation at a small fishing lodge in Ely, Minnesota just as quickly as they can at the Hilton.

But many Republicans want to change that so that the large corporations they represent can increase their profit margins at the expense of small businesses and consumers.

To illustrate why net neutrality is so critical to innovation on the web, I like to tell the story of a small online startup that launched in 2005 above a pizzeria in San Francisco. It had a product that now seems simple: it allowed people to upload videos so others could stream them. It was called YouTube - you may have heard of it.

At the time, Google had a similar product - Google Video - but it wasn't as easy to use, so consumers took their business to YouTube. The site took off and, less than two years after it launched, YouTube was purchased by Google for $1.6 billion. Not a bad payday.

But it wouldn't have been possible without net neutrality. If Google had been able to pay Comcast and other large Internet service providers to prioritize its data - and make YouTube's videos load more slowly - YouTube wouldn't have stood a chance. Google's inferior product would have won.

And some have made the connection between Network Neutrality and Occupy Wall Street:

At Occupy Chicago, communications volunteers count more than 33,000 Facebook "likes," 20,000 Twitter followers, and several thousand website hits every day.

So, some are asking, what would happen if the corporate entities that are the targets of protests were able to limit Internet traffic? That was tried at one point by the Egyptian government during the Arab Spring protests, and Betty Yu with the Center for Media Justice says it's a legitimate concern.

The NY Times editorialized on it:

The resolution would render void the modest rules adopted by the F.C.C. in December 2010. Stripped of authority, the commission would have a very difficult time protecting the Internet from those who clamp down on content for ideological reasons or profit. Repealing the rules would free service providers like phone and cable companies to block or slow down their competitors’ content — be it movies, songs or messages — when it is flowing through their broadband pipes.

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The Republican approach goes back to 2002, when the F.C.C., under the Bush administration, made the bizarre decision that broadband Internet communications were not, in fact, telecommunication services under the law. Last year, the F.C.C. had the opportunity to redefine broadband as a telecommunications service, which would allow greater regulatory oversight. Regrettably, it chose not to, and instead passed a limited set of rules that did not ban the practice of paying to move content faster and largely exempted wireless broadband services.