The vibrancy of American culture is seen on its virtual Main Street – the Internet. But, now the big telecom companies want to change that and the House of Representatives is ready to help them.
The Internet has been open and independent – a place for immense human creativity. It has produced sources of independent news, blogs with commentary and discussion on all matter of issues, viral videos that spread through the net sharing new ways of seeing our times. It has allowed for virtual communities where people gather, discuss, meet – communicate freely. And so much more – sharing of music, digital art, photo shop, email – and, if it remains free and independent who knows what new creations are in store. It is one area where Freedom of Speech is flourishing in the United States.
But, this could all change. The big telecom and cable companies – the same ones that shared phone records with the NSA – want to get control of the Internet. They want to start charging people who use the Net – to take money for something we don’t need them for – to determine which website, search engine, and other net communication tool gets priority on the information superhighway. Rather than a competition of ideas and creativity the net will become controlled by who has the most money.
Could there be any more obscene example of our Congress selling the country to the highest bidder? What, other than campaign contributions – and there have been millions of dollars in telecom contributions – could politicians be thinking when they vote to turn the Net over to major corporate interests? What is the public benefit? The private benefit is evident, as the Net is an economic engine creating jobs, businesses and profits for many, but a benefit to the public interest is hard to discern.
This is a classic case of corporate control of government and it demonstrates the two-party nature of the problem. Earlier this month, when the Congress voted 321 to 101 for the misleadingly-named Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act (COPE) it showed its true colors. COPE does not include network-neutrality protections and allows telephone and cable companies to exploit the Net by doing away with requirements that they maintain a level playing field for access to Internet sites. Even in the Democratic Party there was majority support 106-92, it is evident who the corporatists are and who are those who want an independent Internet for the people. The number two Democrat, Steny Hoyer (MD) and centrist Democrats like Ben Cardin (MD), who is running for the U.S. Senate, voted for the telecom and cable companies.
We don’t need a corporate controlled Internet. Americans are turning off to the corporate media – newspaper readership has dropped from 64 million in 1984 to 42 million today and is still dropping 2 percent a year. People are watching less television news, a Pew Research Center survey shows that 75% of 18-25 year olds prefer the Internet 15% prefer TV. The Internet is the future – nightly network news shows are viewed regularly by 64% of people 65 years old or older but by only 22% of those in their 30s and younger.
But now the Congress is moving to give corporations control of the Internet. The corporations will decide which content is easily accessible, which web sites download easily, and which search engines work most quickly. They’ll decide what personal information to share with the government as telephone companies did with the warrantless eavesdropping program of the NSA.
Advocates for an independent Internet point to examples of discrimination by Internet service providers against content and competing services they don’t like, noting:
· In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service.
· In 2005, Canada’s telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labor dispute.
· Shaw, a big Canadian cable TV company, is charging an extra $10 a month to subscribers in order to “enhance” competing Internet telephone services.
· In April, Time Warner’s AOL blocked all emails that mentioned www.dearaol.com — an advocacy campaign opposing the company’s pay-to-send e-mail scheme.
It is time to put in place rules that ensure an independent Internet with a level playing field for everyone. The United States cannot let the Internet become captive to the self-interest of a handful of big companies. The Internet has thrived because it allows creativity to flourish and lets ideas like blogs, google, Wikipedia and My Place to start with an idea and attract gigantic audiences.
The major challenge facing the United States on issue after issue is big business control of government. The debate over an independent Internet highlights who is on the side of the people’s interest and who is on the side of the corporate interests. There can be no real democracy if information is controlled, manipulated and censored by special interests working hand-in-hand with those they fund in the Congress. Voters need to fight for the freedom of the Internet – to keep America’s virtual Main Street open.