Proposed Rule Changes Would Tangle the Web
By Michael Socolow
MAY 9, 2006 (www.baltimoresun.com ) - Congress wants to change the Internet.
This is news to most people because the major news media have not actively pursued the story. Yet both the House and Senate commerce committees are promoting new rules governing the manner by which most Americans receive the Web. Congressional passage of new rules is widely anticipated, as is President Bush's signature. Once this happens, the Internet will change before your eyes.
The proposed House legislation, the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act (COPE), offers no protections for "network neutrality."
Currently, your Internet provider does not voluntarily censor the Web as it enters your home. This levels the playing field between the tiniest blog and the most popular Web site.
Yet the big telecom companies want to alter this dynamic. AT&T and Verizon have publicly discussed their plans to divide the information superhighway into separate fast and slow lanes. Web sites and services willing to pay a toll will be channeled through the fast lane, while all others will be bottled up in the slower lanes. COPE, and similar telecom legislation offered in the Senate, does nothing to protect the consumer from this transformation of the Internet.
The telecoms are frustrated that commercial Web sites reap unlimited profits while those providing entry to your home for these companies are prevented from fully cashing in. If the new telecom regulations pass without safeguarding net neutrality, the big telecom companies will be able to prioritize the Web for you. They will be free to decide which Web sites get to your computer faster and which ones may take longer - or may not even show up at all.
By giving the telecoms the ability to harness your Web surfing, the government will empower them to shake down the most profitable Web companies. These companies will sell access to you, to Amazon.com, Travelocity.com and even BaltimoreSun.com, etc. What if these companies elect not to pay? Then, when you type in "amazon.com," you might be redirected to barnesandnoble.com, or your lightning-quick DSL Internet service might suddenly move at horse-and-buggy speed.
It might appear that the direct ramifications of this bill are somewhat obscure. Why should you care, if your Internet fee isn't altered? Or if your Web surfing will (possibly) be only minimally disrupted? (The telecoms understand that completely barring access to certain sites - especially the most popular ones - would be counterproductive.)
You should care because any corporate restriction on information gathering directly counters the original purpose of the World Wide Web.
"Universality is essential to the Web," says its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee. "It loses its power if there are certain types of things to which you can't link."