why network neutrality matters, and is worth fighting for

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For weeks, I’ve been trying to write about why Network Neutrality is so important, and why everyone who spends even three minutes a day online should be writing, calling, and faxing their representatives in Congress relentlessly until the so-called First Amendment of the Internet is guaranteed and becomes law. But whenever I start, I end up angry and depressed and frustrated, and the words just won’t come.

Today, Adam Green has a brilliant post at HuffPo that puts into simple language exactly why Network Neutrality is so important:

As the New York Times editorialized today:


"Net neutrality" is a concept that is still unfamiliar
to most Americans, but it keeps the Internet democratic. … One of the
Internet’s great strengths is that a single blogger or a small
political group can inexpensively create a Web page that is just as
accessible to the world as Microsoft’s home page. But this democratic
Internet would be in danger if the companies that deliver Internet
service changed the rules so that Web sites that pay them money would
be easily accessible, while little-guy sites would be harder to access
and slower to navigate. Providers could also block access to sites they
do not like.

If Net Neutrality is gutted, Google, eBay, and YouTube
either pay protection money to companies like AT&T or risk that
their sites process slowly on your computer. Comcast could
intentionally slow access to iTunes, steering Internet customers its
own music service. And the little guy with the next big idea would be muscled out of the marketplace, relegated to the "slow lane" of the information superhighway.

This isn’t just speculation — it’s already happened in places without Net Neutrality. Heck, AT&T’s CEO blatantly announced, "The Internet can’t be free."

That’s why an Internet revolt has begun–a revolt that [Telecom spokesman Mike] McCurry belittles. Folks as diverse as Craig from Craigslist, MoveOn, Gun Owners of America,  Google, eBay, and Amazon are all fighting back. 350,000 people signed a petition demanding Congress preserve Internet freedom, over 2,000 blogs have rallied the public, and even some celebrities are chiming in.

Craig Fields from Gun Owners of America hit the target right-on when he said

"Whenever you see people on the far left and far right
joining together about something Congress is getting ready to do, it’s
been my experience that what Congress is getting ready to do is
basically un-American.

(Emphasis mine)

There’s much more to his post, including a smackdown of Mike McCurry, who has become and outright lying shill for powerful telecom interests like AT&T who want to force a fundamental change to the way the Internet operates. Please read it. I think it’s the most important thing you’ll read today, and should help everyone who’s heard about this issue (but doesn’t know exactly what it is — which includes a lot of people, including myself until about last week) understand why it’s so important.

On a personal note: without the Internet, I’d be just another failed actor struggling to make ends meet. Because I had the same ability to put together a website and reach an audience as anyone else, I was able to put my words on your screens, and eventually into a book that got into many of your hands. If AT&T or some other big telecom decided that regular guys like me had to pay some sort of protection money to have the same ability to reach you as Google or MSN does, I never would have been able to get WWdN off the ground, much less found Monolith Press, publish Dancing Barefoot, and start an entirely new career as a writer.

We’ve all taken for granted that we’ll have equal access to the Internet, both as consumers and as creators of content. Right now, very powerful, very greedy, and very un-democratic businesses are trying very hard to take that away from us. They must be stopped.

Again, Adam Green:

The only way to protect Net Neutrality is for Congress to take
action now, as it re-writes our nation’s telecom laws. Senators Olympia
Snowe (R-ME) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Representative Ed Markey
(D-MA) have introduced legislation to do this. Mike McCurry and his
clients like AT&T are fighting it tooth and nail.

If you are outraged, don’t just sit there . . .  take these steps:

1. SIGN a Net Neutrality petition to Congress:

2. CALL Congress now:

3. BLOG about this issue, or put our "Save the Internet" logo on your Web site:

4. MYSPACE: Add "Save the Internet" as a friend:

5. WRITE A LETTER to Congress:

6. VISIT our coalition Web site for more information, SavetheInternet.com

39 thoughts on “why network neutrality matters, and is worth fighting for”

  1. 1. done
    2. will do in a.m.
    3. I’ll do both
    4. don’t have myspace but will tell friends who do
    5. love writing letters
    6. I’m already there
    Scary Wil. I’m with you.

  2. The internet was designed to be decentralized. If the owners of the fat data pipes start charging more for their usage, then that will create an economic incentive for others to create their own fat data pipes. Since data can be routed dynamically the companies who try to charge simply won’t be used. The creation of more companies that can provide high speed data services will mean lower prices and better broadband service to consumers. I suspect that companies like AT&T want Net Neutrality to pass because it will help to discourage new competition from entering the market.

  3. Wil, please try to understand what the actual impacts of the whole “net neutrality” issue are before appearing to support it on your blog.
    Alan, who left a comment above, hints at what might result from it. Needless to say, it is NOT good for consumers.

  4. I see your point Alan, but to completely avoid huge companies may be harder than it seems. I don’t know everything about the larger ISPs so correct me if I’m wrong. But here we have pretty much one Cable provider and one DSL provider. Only the wireless providers are smaller, but if you do a simple trace route you can see they go through the bigger ones. I don’t know how a new company could infiltrate the cable and phone company’s markets here.
    But this is America, and if we don’t like a price, someone is sure to find a way around it :)

  5. Done Wil. As much as I can. I’ll see what I can do about contacting my Representatives in government, but I’m in Texas. Home of Tom Delay. Frankly, they don’t give a crap about anything that doesn’t come in a canvas bag with a dollar sign stenciled on the side.

  6. This doesn’t mean your ISP gets to charge you more unless the FCC jumps in and stops them, and you just let the “free market” decide to take your service elsewhere. It’s much more serious than that. This means that the backbone ISPs can decide to charge more for certain sites, choke traffic to sites that don’t pay a “premium” fee for access, or completely cut off entire sites.
    How many people do you know who totally love their cable company? How about local radio? You get really excited to turn on the radio and skip through the dial, because there’s so much to choose from? Cable and radio suck because they are massive monopolies, completely devoid of any meaningful regulation. Look as the last twenty years and you’ll see that massively deregulating the public airwaves has been a finacial boom for a few companies, but has largely hurt consumers who have less choice and higher bills than ever before. I don’t want the Internet to reflect the cable television or corporate radio industries, at all.
    You’re damn right I support network neutrality, and you all should, too.

  7. A short note to Congress about Network Neutrality…

    So after reading Wil’s post about Net Neutrality I have decided that it is a very worthy cause.
    As if the internet weren’t already frustrating enough.
    This isn’t just an issue about the rights of webmasters and others who maintain their own …

  8. What’s most offensive to me is the way the telecommunications companies have spun the issue to make it sound like a libertarian one (free market rules will win! better internet access for all!) or a populist one (it’s in your best interest to make greedy companies like Amazon and Google pay their fair share).
    It’s neither. It’s blatant corporate greed; huge companies wanting to take more of your money and exert even greater control over the network.
    We’ve seen time and again that deregulation of networks simply doesn’t work. As Wil points out, it creates monopolies. It’s why I have only one choice for an ISP. Where’s the free market there? Who are the other companies who are jumping at the chance to provide me something cheaper than the $50 a month I already pay to AT&T?
    The argument “The internet was designed to be decentralized” should’ve been the first clue. Allowing a tiered internet pricing scheme would do exactly the opposite — it would concentrate all the power in the hands of the companies who would no longer just control how much you pay, but how much you SEE.
    Thanks for the heads-up, Wil.

  9. Another example-ish would be PG and E.
    The other circumstances are different, the main point is that ‘natural monopolies’ function differently then other sorts of economic endevors. This much, I hope, is still taught in econ1A?
    Companies that operate in natural monopolies already get special perks, to me this is a case of wanting your cake and eating it too. This isn’t like cars where you have many choices and if you want you can choose not to drive an SUV or choose not to drive a hybred. This using your monopoly power to try to force consumers to change the habits of thier consumption, whether they like it or not. I’m going out on a limb here because I don’t remember that much about monopolies or monopoly law, but I *think* that arguments could be made that this kind of behavior is illegal under currant law. Or, I could be crazy. It would be an interesting research project for someone to look into. But the details of these sorts of things are often 100 x more complicated then you would think just by looking at them.

  10. Wil, with your permission I’d like to reprint your post on my blog. It’d be much more effective than a link (which I know I don’t usually click). The First Amendment (along with the other 22) were what I spent 13 months in the Land of Sand getting shot at to preserve.

  11. Okay Wil, before you start going off on net neutrality, I think you need to completely understand what the telcos are trying to do.
    “Net Neutrality” hasn’t existed for a long time. All major long distance fibre companies have implemented DCOS (Dynamic Class of Service) a long time ago (5-10 yrs). Ever wonder why sites hosted by the same provided load faster?
    They are not trying to make it harder for people to access your site. They are not trying to make it harder for people to reach you.
    Data transfer isn’t cheap. Laying fibre isn’t cheap. Backbone internet routers aren’t cheap. Actually, they are bloody expensive. What the companies want is the ability to charge companies a premium to allow certains types of traffic to “jump the line”. They already use this for VoIP traffic. All this means is that site like yours might lose 10-50ms in response time. No harm no fowl. It also means that the Telco’s have extra money to build out the network. And any money spent on the network benefits everyone.
    As a worker for a company with a coast to coast network, I believe that Alan’s comments are right on.
    Now if you are still paranoid about net neutrality, you need to know that there are major hurdles with implementing the plan’s that AT&T and friends want. Every major telco has it’s own DCOS definitions. And they almost never translate properly between them. Every major telco in North America, and effectively the world would have to agree on the exact same uses for the different DCOS classes. Not very likely any time soon. You ever see China agreeing with AT&T on those DCOS class uses? I don’t. That problem is not easy to solve.
    Now, I know you all running around crying Constitutional violation. But is it really? Is it constitutionally invalid for a company to charge people more money for a higher level of service? What’s un-american about that? It’s not much different fundamentally from USPS charging extra money to garantee a package is delviered by a certain date. If it’s un-american to charge people extra to make sure an IP package gets delivered in a certain time, it’s un-american for the USPS to charge for first class packages, or for Airlines to charge for first class seats, etc.

  12. So I see two sides of the argument here. One says the major telco companies will make it harder to view the smaller guy’s website if they don’t pay more or may just make it hard to view it at all if the company doesn’t like it.
    The other says its just like paying for better quality of service. All websites would just be as visible, but some faster. Just like paying for a faster DSL line.
    I don’t know which to believe right now, though these companies haven’t exactly earned my trust over the years. And the cable company here is so stupid (no one there even knows how to config their routers), I don’t know if they even know how to implement QoS. They just know how to block port 139 😛

  13. Wil,
    I blogged about it, myspaced about it, wrote emails about it, and signed the petition. I’m not sure how much it will help, but I hope it does something.
    Easy access to the net is very important, and I hope it continues to stay that way.

  14. If any of you haven’t yet seen this documentary, please rent, buy, or borrow the film called CORPORATION.
    Once you see it, it may just change the way you look at America, forever.

  15. Just for the record, I don’t really feel like I know enough about this issue to make a good decision. The thing about the telecos charging content providers like Google or Wil or me just smells bad. If that is a feasible business model then why aren’t they doing it now? It seems like a threat designed to provoke an emotional reaction. I had the exact same reaction too, but the fact that I’m not hearing any rational debate (meaning non-emotional) on either side of this issue just makes me suspicious.
    At the time being nothing is broken. We don’t need to pass a law to fix anything. If the big telecos start turning the screws and things get bad then we can pass a law and maybe turn them back into a regulated monopoly or change the right of way laws to make it easier for more competition to enter the market. They don’t want that and so they aren’t going to turn the screws.
    I think there is some reason the telecos want this bill. I don’t know what that reason it, but I suspect it is to keep competitors out of the market.

  16. What I am getting out of this is that if big companies get their way, they are going to be no better than the mafia, intimidating companies/sites into paying for protection and figuratively “whacking” sites that get in their way by not allowing them to easily get their products and/or messages to the people looking for them.

  17. I like to listen to all arguments. Both sides of any issue are passionate and thought provoking. I work at a Library. We offer free internet access and we host our own site. What happens to the not-for-profit organizations who host their own sites?

  18. Same as the rest of us,Cheri. You’re potentially open for getting hit with “service fees”.
    Personally, I think the ‘net works fine the way it is – not regulated. I don’t want to see Congress legislating anything on the subject, it’s hard enough to explain network neutrality and QoS agreements to a semi-tecnhical audience – I doubt Ye Olde CongressCritter has a shot at understanding the issue at all.
    That said – when the telcos are working to buy a legislation on the subject, it’s been my experience that it almost never works out to be something that’s in the consumer’s interest.

  19. Once again, Wil showing his left leaning policies by not underlining “Far Left”, but he will under line “Far Right” in the following statement. Maybe that’s why he sucks at poker, he only sees only one side.
    “Whenever you see people on the far left and far right joining together about something Congress is getting ready to do, it’s been my experience that what Congress is getting ready to do is basically un-American.”

  20. And I didn’t even make that link myself. That’s from a quoted bit of text, which was originally written by a Far Right author.
    Thanks for pointing that out, mspixiechick. I’m just positive an apology will be coming right away.
    And thanks for elevating the discussion by lamely attempting to insult me, Excal1701. That’s very mature. Next time, I suggest pulling out your sharpest “your mom” line, and giving it a try.

  21. If a bill was passed that made corporate executives liable and responsible for their own actions, we would all be better off as a people.
    The solution is simple. Allow companies to exist, but return moral and legal liability to the people acting on behalf of their company. Just revoke their corporate charters, and problem solved!
    Imagine if Enron’s CEO Ken Lay was legally held accountable for all of his actions and not protected by the Corporate Charter…
    He’d be giving Scott Peterson a pedicure today, and his last name would become a verb after lunch.

  22. Count me in on the fight. As I mentioned in my letters to my elected representativies, the internet has become our best tool for maintaining and spreading liberal democracy, if you mess with it, you are showing yourself to be a plutocratic oligarch. Or as my neice would say a big stinky head.

  23. I too won’t claim to understand all the issues, but working for an Internet development company that partners with Internet equipment manufacturers, I agree with thorkia :
    “Data transfer isn’t cheap. Laying fibre isn’t cheap. Backbone internet routers aren’t cheap…”
    I too love my “free” Internet. As a consumer, who doesn’t love “free” Internet? And when I say “free”, I mean that for most ISPs there is NO additional fee beyond the paltry monthly ISP service charge compared to the amount of Internet content users consume.
    NO other utility provides similar “free” service &/or goods. All other utilities provide a service or good that is charged proportionally — water, electric, telephone, gasoline, oil. In other words, when you use 2000 gallons of water in a month, you’re charged for 2000; you use 6000, you’re charged for 6000.
    ISPs a decade ago started out with a standard “low” fee. This was probably based on the estimated Internet content each subscriber would likely use, in part based on the type of Internet content available at the time (simple web pages, email). Also, ISPs couldn’t have attracted business to a new market without having a low price point.
    But 10 years later, with literally terra-terra-terra-terra bytes of Internet content available to be downloaded around the clock by millions of users, the “free” model is NOT as cost-effective as it once was.
    Therefore, possible solutions are to (1) charge for quality of service, (2) charge
    ISP customers based on proportional service usage, or (3) charge based on site specifics/demographics.
    The first two options are reasonable, everyday capitalist options. Everyone will hate these options because they’ve been spoiled by “free” Internet for 5+ years now, but it’s not any different than paying more when you use more water or gas or electricity.
    But I agree that the third option that allows ISPs to regulate Internet traffic to specific sites of their choosing would be very, very bad for everyone all across the globe. (Especially in far less democractic nations where the Internet is a new tool that provides the potential for freedom of expression.)

  24. I too won’t claim to understand all the issues, but working for an Internet development company that partners with Internet equipment manufacturers,
    You clearly don’t understand all the issues. If it was about usage, we wouldn’t be complaining nearly as much. But it’s not about usage. It’s about the right to usage. It’s about the corporatization of the net. Making it so only those with the financial clout have the right to be heard. Making it so your mailbox is for sale (AOL is trying to do this now) and all the spam filters in the world won’t help you. If they pay to fill your box with shit, it will be full of shit.(dearaol.com) And if you don’t pay to send the e-mail? Maybe it will make it there and maybe it won’t. Depends on who did pay to get their mail sent. And how much.
    No, all those miles of cable, all those routers and such are not cheap, but with several million customers paying in their monthly fees, I imagine they’re not exactly hurting.
    You liken it to water or power, but it’s not anywhere near to being like that at all. There is a product with water and power. A finite product. One that must be moved through whatever means is unique to that particualr product. They charge everyone who is contracted with them the same amount though.
    How about if they decide that whoever pays the most gets the water? That’s the proposition here. If Dinkleburg across the street pays more than you, he gets to shower that day and you don’t. If he pays more to the electric company, they route most of the power to him so your living room lights are dim at best while he’s got searchlights blazing in the yard.
    The Net is not like water or energy. They’re not moving a product. If anything you’re renting a spot on the internet the same way you rent an apartment. You pay rent, they pay upkeep. If your air conditioner breaks, they fix it (mine exploded today. It was crazy. Then Juan the maintenance guy came and fixed it. For free. Because I pay rent).
    If the ISP’s were just looking to raise rates to cover costs, there would be some bitching, but it wouldn’t be a real issue. That’s not what is proposed though. Hell, the right to usage isn’t even the question. The to right to equal usage is.
    Man…that was longwinded. Ever feel like you wasted a perfectly good blog post in a comments section?

  25. Thanks for that link, Wil. I’ve been following it, but I was also having trouble finding the words to blog about it. Until now, that is.

  26. Well, if you want to sing out, sing out.

    Perhaps you’ve heard the rumblings about Net Neutrality? It hurts my head, I have to admit. So I was glad to read this post by Wil Wheaton.We’ve all taken for granted that we’ll have equal access to the Internet,

  27. Also, the net is used by everyone around the world, whos to say which companies have the right the regulate the internet? Will it be only the usa companies like AT&T and others to do this? Will it only be the usa government to regulate the net for users in other countries to direct them to usa sites? THIS IS JUST WRONG ANY WAY YOU LOOK AT IT.

  28. Protecting Net Neutrality

    Woke to a nugget of bad news in my email this evening. It was an email from my much beloved MoveOn.org which read in part: Your House member, Rep. Charles Gonzalez, voted in committee AGAINST preserving Internet freedom, and will…

  29. Hi Will. Congratulations on your very interesting blog.
    Is SAVE THE INTERNET in the US only? Or is it valid in other countries such as Canada?

  30. “He who controls the information rules the world.”
    It’s a terrible idea. Net neutrality is the only way that makes sense.

  31. It’s a pity that most of the advocates of net neutrality simply don’t understand the current technology, law, or politics of how the Internet functions, and are making lots of erroneous claims based on that misinformation. I don’t entirely side with the telcos–they are clearly after their own interests here–but their statements generally tend to have more factual accuracy around them (except when they try to pretend this is an issue of backbone capacity rather than last-mile capacity).
    I’ve posted a number of entries at my blog trying to help sort out the facts. I think the basic principles of net neutrality in the FCC statement are quite reasonable, but I strongly disagree that the FCC is a good entity to start making detailed rules and regulations about what net neutrality means (these are the guys that regulate “indecent” content, remember!), and many of the things that net neutrality advocates say should be prohibited (like classes of service and tiered pricing) would have some major bad unintended consequences and hinder innovation.
    Here’s a post where I explain some of the issues, and here’s one and here’s another where I correct some misstatements by net neutrality advocates and point to accurate resources.
    The number one study that anyone who wants to be informed on this issue should read is the Stifel/Nicolaus analyst report titled “Value Chain Tug of War.” They are right on the money about the interplay between the various interests, what leverage the telcos actually have to do harm (two places: last mile and in Washington, D.C., which they exercise huge control over), and what are likely outcomes.
    If this plays out through market competition, the telcos will lose again. If it plays out through government regulation, that’s the telcos’ home turf.

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