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Creation of "Tiered Internet" Would Hurt Competition and Consumers, Argues Prof. Kevin Howley

June 11, 2007

Kevin Howley 2005.jpgJune 11, 2007, Greencastle, Ind. - Few Americans are aware of the term "net neutrality" or what it means, says Kevin Howley, associate professor of communication at DePauw University. In today's Indianapolis Star, he argues, "For anyone who uses the Internet -- for e-mail, online shopping, research or recreation -- the principle of net neutrality is vital for keeping the Internet the open communication platform we have come to know."

Dr. Howley's op-ed continues, "Put simply, net-neutrality protections ensure that network operators provide nondiscriminatory access to the network and online content. Think about it like this: When you make a phone call, the telephone company can't keep you from talking to whomever you want, or prevent you from talking about whatever you like. Net neutrality applies the same principle to Internet communication."

The professor says the telephone and cable laptop columns.jpgindustries are working to "eliminate longstanding net-neutrality provisions," and are waging "a misinformation campaign that distorts the issue. For example, representatives of the cable and telephone industries argue that the government has no right to tell them what to do with 'their pipes.' What these network operators neglect to mention are the enormous government subsidies that went into creating the Internet in the first place and that continue to support network build-out at taxpayer expense."

Howley, author of Community Media: People, Places, and Communication Technologies, says the industries are also working to keep this topic out of the news.  If the Federal Communication Commission grants the wishes of the cable and phone companies and eliminates net neutrality rules, he asserts, the businesses "will move ahead with their plan to create an Internet 'fast lane.'howley community media.jpg

Under this scheme, content providers would have to pay network operators a steep fee to have their material delivered to computer users. Those who could not afford to pay these fees -- nonprofit groups, small businesses, civic organizations, bloggers and the like -- would be relegated to the 'slow lane.'

This would, in effect, create a 'tiered Internet' akin to the way subscribers pay for cable television. But the pay-as-you-go formula runs counter to the Internet's democratic character."

Howley believes such a system would reduce incentives for Internet providers to upgrade and would stifle competition.  He calls upon readers to learn more about these issues, and take action.

"Fortunately, a number of nonpartisan organizations, such as the Consumers Union, The Free Press and SavetheInternet.com have been keeping tabs on the debate," he notes. "These groups host Web sites with valuable resources, including background information about net neutrality, policy analysis and tools that make it easy to contact congressional representatives and FCC commissioners."

The column concludes, "We can keep the Internet open, dell latitude.jpgmaintain its entrepreneurial spirit and preserve its democratic character; or we can let the cable and telephone companies privatize the Internet and allow network operators to determine how and at what price we can access online news, information and culture. Congress needs to hear from the public on net neutrality, as does the FCC. The deadline for public comment is June 15."

Read the complete essay at College News.org.

Kevin Howley discussed "street papers" in the May/June Utne Reader.  Find details in this previous story.

Source: Indianapolis Star

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