Linux News Urges Action on Net Neutrality

Posted by dcparris on Jun 2, 2006 6:44 AM EDT
LXer Newswire; By DC Parris
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  LXer Feature: 2-June-06

I would not be where I am today without a free and open Internet. The same could be said for many, if not most, Internet users. Whether you use the Internet to engage in business, education, politics or religion, or you just want your fill of sex, hacking and multi-media, a free and open Internet is an absolute must.

What's The Deal With Net Neutrality?

Recently, readers started asking about LXer's position on Net Neutrality. Some people still aren't really sure what Net Neutrality is all about. Given the way Microsoft likes to co-opt the English language to define their software and standards as somehow "open", Net Neutrality struck me as one of those monopolist-coined phrases designed to trick me into supporting something I would later regret. Fortunately, that is not the case. Net Neutrality is something that every netizen would surely want. The bad news is, some are trying to turn freedom into profit. Anyone who knows me can just see the smoke starting to billow from my ears already.



You see, right now, there is a bill in the House of Representatives, known as the "Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006", or HR 5252 designed to give the major telecable giants, like AT&T, BellSouth, Comcast, Time-Warner, Verizon, and others the ability to control Internet access, based on your ability to pay. How will this affect you and me? Well, currently, the web is run in a way that allows LXer.com - or for that matter, your blog - to load at the same speed as Microsoft.com or Google.com, depending on the webmaster's design skills. Under the COPE act, Google and Microsoft can pay big bucks to receive higher priority, thus lowering LXer.com's priority, and leaving it in the dust.



According to Craig Aaron, of SaveTheInternet.com, the COPE Act has been passed out of committee, and is headed for the floor. Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has introduced his own bill, HR 5417 in the Judiciary committee, and it is on a collision course with HR5252. What is considered likely to happen, at this point, is that HR 5417 may be amended to HR525, thus keeping Net Neutrality intact. Still, in the Senate, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has introduced the Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006 (S2360). In plain English, the COPE Act in the House appears to be a mixed blessing. It protects community networks, but fails to protect network neutrality.



How a Free and Open Internet Impacted My Life

In 1995 I was a computer technophobe buying a computer for the first time. I got it January, and by March had signed up for CompuServe. In a very short time I discovered that, although I didn't own a car, I could communicate with people in different cities and states. I began to engage in discussions around social issues that concerned me. For the first time, I could share how a social issue impacted me in Charlotte, North Carolina, and get input from people in New York, Kansas, and Oregon. It really helped me to see the bigger picture.



In time, I discovered the greater Internet and eventually the GNU/Linux operating system. Since I was not a computer expert, I started using the Internet to support what I was learning from books to help me solve computer problems. By 2004 I was a regular member of the SUSE Linux mailing list, where I got a good chunk of the information I used in writing my book, "Penguin in the Pew". Indeed, I even published my first-ever paperback - the second edition of "Penguin in the Pew". Along the way, I began building up contacts among hackers, users, journalists and news sites, and was invited to join LXer in October of last year.



Today, I am Editor-in-Chief of one of the fastest growing technology news sites on the web, thanks in no small part to a free and open Internet. Even so, I'm a small fry. Where would GNU/Linux be today without a free and open Internet? More precisely, where would it be if Microsoft were able to pay enough money - or worse, organize a partnership among non-free software developers - to force users to wait three hours to load Linux On-Line, or debian.org, or SourceForge? It's actually worse than that. Small businesses, FOSS projects, non-profit and religious organizations - even educational organizations - could face an uphill struggle against those who can afford to pay for the fast lane. Save the Internet has paints a pretty disturbing picture of a telecable-domineered Internet.



Knowledge Is Power

What would happen to the next Writely, or the next Scribus, or Abiword if the developers cannot afford fast lane fees? If you think this kind of abuse is far-fetched, then you haven't heard how AOL blocked e-mail mentioning http://www.dearaol.com. Two years ago in North Carolina, ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service. If American ISPs follow the behavior of those in Canada, such as Telus and Shaw, access to union sites could be blocked and people using competitor's services could experience downgraded service.



Look, whether you use the Internet to engage in business, education, politics or religion, or you just want your fill of sex, hacking and multi-media, a free and open Internet is an absolute must. The battle lines seem to be drawn between the telecable giants and the rest of us. I mentioned the supporters of HR 5252 above. The supporters of HR 5417 include the OpenDocument Foundation, Free Culture (sister to the FOSS movement) and numerous others, along with Earthlink, Ebay, Google, Microsoft, and Skype. One would think that the mere agreement of Google and Microsoft on an issue ought to make Congress stand up and take notice.



My Political Science teacher in high school taught us that knowledge is power. He was right, you know. But that power is pointless unless you exercise it by acting on what you know. Once I discovered what this whole Net Neutrality thing was all about, I fired off e-mails to my appropriate representives in the House and Senate. What about you? Are you willing to exercise your power? Using the Act Now link at www.savetheinternet.com will take you to a page where you can e-mail your representatives to let them know how you want them to represent you.



LXer's publisher, Dave Whitinger, and the editorial team of LXer encourage you to take action today. We do not have much time to sit around, playing Tiddlywinks while the telecable giants shove us around through Congressional games. As I said above, the bill could come to a vote within the next week or two. SaveThe Internet.com's F.A.Q. explains where things stand as of yesterday. If you want, you can go straight to the Act Now page.





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