In the last fifteen years we have seen the media change in a way that has created an entirely new dynamic. The growth of the Internet has created a new medium that allows for truly democratic participation in our democracy. Indeed, the Internet has made the First Amendment of the Constitution guaranteeing Freedom of Speech a “living document” for Americans in a way that nothing has before.
Common Cause firmly believes in net neutrality -- the principle that Internet users should be able to access any web content they want, post their own content, and use any applications they choose, without restrictions or limitations imposed by their Internet service providers (ISPs).
Net neutrality is the reason this democratic medium has grown exponentially, fueled innovation and altered how we communicate. We must make certain that for-profit interests do not destroy the democratic culture of the web.
There are various ways in which the Internet has enhanced our democracy. Organizations and politicians have been benefiting from the new ability to react instantly to political opportunities and call for their supporters to take action in real time as well as much more cost-effectively. They have also found that they can promote themselves more effectively by maintaining a constant presence online as well as utilizing web 2.0 strategies such as social networking and interactive blogs. In addition, the Internet has allowed anyone with a message to reach out to millions of potential donors to support their efforts. Large numbers of small donors have allowed new political organizations to thrive and candidates that have more connection with the grassroots than wealthy special interests to run viable campaigns.
But while political candidates and organizations have benefited, the biggest impact of the Internet has been on the average citizen. Voters can research candidates and issues more in-depth than ever before. They can find out much more about what organizations are in sync with their views and get involved with them if they choose. And Internet users can air their views so much more effectively than ever before, whether by having or participating in a blog, speaking out on social networking tools like Facebook or MySpace, emailing friends, relatives and acquaintances, or participating in online discussions on bulletin board sites. As our citizens participate more and more online, they enhance the public discourse about the future of our country and local communities. Even when people disagree with each other, the fact that they are not leaving the discussion up to just the entrenched interests already in power is healthy for democracy.
Telephone and cable companies that provide Internet access to millions of Americans would like to get rid of Net Neutrality. They spend millions of dollars lobbying Congress for the right to create a two-tier Internet, where their own content and services (and those of businesses that pay their fees) would travel quickly and efficiently in the ”fast lane,” while all other websites and services would be relegated to the “slow lane.”
The FCC let effective Net Neutrality protections expire in August 2006 as the result of a technical change in the way they address Internet governance. But it is important to understand that Net Neutrality has always been a guiding principle of the Internet — it is the reason that the Internet has been able to grow exponentially, fuel innovation, and alter how we communicate.
Today there is no rule or regulation to prevent phone and cable companies from doing what they have said they want to do: charge content providers for the right to be on “their” Internet pipes, and make special deals with some companies to ensure their sites and services work faster and are easier to find by Internet users. That’s why it’s so critical that Congress act now to protect freedom on the Internet.
Without Net Neutrality, Internet service providers would be free to block or impede any online content or services, for any reason. They could also charge websites or applications for “priority service,” practically assuring that any site that couldn’t or wouldn’t pay their fees would no longer work as well or be as easy to find. That could spell the end of innovation, as small businesses, entrepreneurs, local governments, nonprofits and others would be locked out of a system controlled by the big telephone and cable companies. If network providers are allowed to control the flow of information, the open and freewheeling nature of the Internet could be lost.
Even worse, we’ll lose the Internet as our “town square” — where we talk to one another, exchange views, find information from many diverse sources of news and opinion, blog, contact candidates, and engage in our democracy. We will be left with an Internet that is mostly about selling things and is no longer about citizen engagement.
We are already seeing the impact of the loss of Net Neutrality. Verizon refused to allow political text messages from NARAL to go to its customers, even though those customers had signed up to receive the messages. Comcast was caught denying and degrading legal file sharing communications on its network. And the future looks even worse: AT&T has announced to potential investors that it is “ready to filter the internet.”
We're ready - with your help - to fight the telcom giants in the halls of Congress, at state houses around the country and at the FCC. We need to push back hard at the telecom lobbyists who want to write Internet freedom out of the law.
We need your help. Right now, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is asking for public opinion on net neutrality. Tell the FCC that the principle of net neutrality needs to be protected so that Internet service providers can't act as gatekeepers.
Media and Democracy in America Today - A Reform Plan for a New Administration: Common Cause's media reform platform with a section on Net Neutrality and related new media issues.
Some Straight Talk about Net Neturality: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Meet the New Boss... Same as the Old Boss: Will the new CEO at AT&T become a champion for Net Neutrality?
Newspapers Weigh in on Internet Freedom: Editorials about Net Neutrality
S. 215, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act
What it Does: Prevents broadband Internet service providers from blocking, interfering with, discriminating against, impairing, or degrading any lawful content, applications or services on the Internet.
Status: Introduced by Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Sens. Boxer, Clinton, Harkin, Kerry, Leahy, Obama, Sanders and Wyden are co-sponsors. Currently pending in the Senate Commerce Committee.
Common Cause Position: Support.
H.R. 5353, Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008