Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Quid Pro Quo: The conspiracy-minded are already beginning to wonder what the telecommunications companies got in exchange for selling out their customers, and are not surprisingly inclined to wonder whether the end of “net neutrality” might be their reward.

The debate over “net neutrality” has not gotten a lot of play in the mainstream media, but it’s a major issue for anyone with a website or, indeed, an Internet connection. Net neutrality ensures that all Internet users can access the content or run the applications and devices of their choice, without restrictions or penalties. With Net Neutrality, the network’s only job is to move data. It’s a big part of the reason why the Internet has driven economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech online.

But the nation’s largest telephone and cable companies—including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner—are lobbying for the right to decide which websites go fast or slow and which won’t load at all. They want to charge content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data, and they want the right to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video, while slowing down or blocking their competitors.

As the website Save the Internet puts it: “These companies have a new vision for the Internet. Instead of an even playing field, they want to reserve express lanes for their own content and services—or those from big corporations that can afford the steep tolls—and leave the rest of us on a winding dirt road.”

Without Net Neutrality, in other words, the Internet will look more like cable TV. Network owners will decide which channels, content and applications are available; consumers will have to choose from their menu. It’s an approach designed to stifle innovation and—potentially—squeeze out dissenting voices.

The conspiracy-minded—and it’s hard not be among them given what’s going on right now—see a perfect symbiosis: the government gets access to your phone records; in exchange the telecommunications companies get the right to discriminate against certain websites and web users.

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