Capitalism is a funny thing. It makes people work for something, but at the same time makes people greedy. Case in point is the "two-tiered system" that some internet providers are asking Congress to allow.
Verizon, Comcast, Bell South and other communications are spearheading a plan to control where you go on the Internet, how fast you get there, and how much you pay for the service? They want to privatize our Internet! The big CEOs of these huge companies actually want to begin imposing a new scheme for the delivery of Internet content, a plan that would increase cost for all of us--from content providers to individual users. Industry planners are mulling new subscription plans that would further limit the online experience, establishing "platinum," "gold" and "silver" levels of Internet access that would set limits on the number of downloads, media streams or even e-mail messages that could be sent or received.
To ward off the prospect of virtual toll booths on the information highway, some new media companies and public-interest groups are calling for new federal policies requiring "network neutrality" on the Internet. Common Cause
, Amazon, Google, Free Press
, Media Access Project and Consumers Union, among others, have proposed that broadband providers would be prohibited from discriminating against all forms of digital content. For example, phone or cable companies would not be allowed to slow down competing or undesirable content.
Besides their business interests, telephone and cable companies also have a larger political agenda. Both industries oppose giving local communities the right to create their own local Internet wireless or wi-fi networks. They also want to eliminate the last vestige of local oversight from electronic media--the ability of city or county government, for example, to require telecommunications companies to serve the public interest with, for example, public-access TV channels. The Bells also want to further reduce the ability of the FCC to oversee communications policy. They hope that both the FCC and Congress--via a new Communications Act--will back these proposals.
Fortunately, media rights activists are fighting--and winning--battles to ensure that more, not fewer, are given access to the web. One of the major fronts in the fight to equalize Internet access has been the effort to provide universal wireless service, and cities across the nation are rapidly embracing WiFi-for-all initiatives. Of course, big telecom lobbyists are fighting tooth and nail to eliminate these programs, and have already helped to create laws in 14 states making it illegal for cities to build their own wireless grids. Louisiana is one of these states, and in New Orleans--where free Wi-Fi access was made available in the wake of Katrina--big telecom is trying to shut down
this critical source of communication for desperately needy residents.
The struggle for Community Internet has moved from the states to Capitol Hill. Countering efforts by big telephone and cable companies to outlaw municipal broadband, Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently introduced S. 1294
, the Community Broadband Act.
The Lautenberg-McCain bill, which has been referred to the Senate Commerce Committee, would "preserve and protect the ability of local governments to provide broadband capability and services." This legislation would ensure that local communities everywhere can decide for themselves how to best serve the technology needs of their own citizens.