No Country For Open Internet

3 10 2010

Free speech suffers yet another blow as of September 29th, with the confirmed death of net neutrality legislation in Congress. The bill would have given the Federal Communications Commission the authority to re-regulate broadband Internet services, specifically to prevent Internet service providers (such as Verizon and Comcast) from controlling the prices of Internet access based on network user traffic.This most recent bit of legislation, the brainchild of Rep. Henry Waxman (D – Cali.), failed to garner enough bipartisan backing in the House of Representatives, leaving the future of Internet regulation ambiguous at best.

Rep. Joe Barton (R – Tex.) officially put the kibosh on Republican backing, claiming that re-regulation of broadband services (a key part of the proposal) would stifle investment in the “dynamic” economic sector of telecommunications.

This adds insult to the injury sustained by the FCC in April’s federal court ruling favoring Comcast; ultimately, the ruling made clear that the FCC did not have the authority to sanction Internet service providers for interfering with network traffic. The passage of net neutrality would change that, giving the FCC the ability to ensure that online content remains equally accessible by every user to every site, unafflicted by lobbyist influences by corporations or interest groups.

Sure, it’s pretty obvious that our economy has seen better days, and investment should be encouraged as a much-needed stimulant. All things aside, it is investment that will kill the openness that as of now characterizes the Internet as a medium of information. Keeping Internet service providers free from a federally-guaranteed system of legal checks and balances will allow the flow of information to be directed by the highest bidder. While Google has a history of publicly backing net neutrality, more recent press coverage makes for darker implications. And if purchasing prioritization becomes legal, why wouldn’t Google do it?

It’s not over yet. There still exists the possibility of introducing new net neutrality legislation. Even so, with the impending midterm elections foreshadowing a Republican comeback, passage of any kind of net neutrality bill will be more difficult than before.

Democrats must continue trying; the Internet cannot be managed by companies that auction off traffic to the highest bidder. Should such practices become standard procedure in dealing with Internet service providers, media conglomerates (left or right wing) will launch into bidding wars to ensure their content receives the most users. Rather than allowing information from any and every source make its way into the open global forum we have today, lobbying will turn the Internet into the red-and-blue political divide that today turns so many of us off of cable television news.