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Internet Discrimination: Impending Threat to Technology Growth? Part 1 of 3

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The Internet, as we have come to know it, is one of the ultimate forms of democracy and expression of free speech. However, as soon as we begin creating “haves” and “have-nots” in cyberspace, we turn loose of some of our freedom. In Part 1 of a three-part series, telecom expert Leo Wrobel discusses the importance of maintaining Net Neutrality and how Internet users are at risk of losing some of their freedoms by not having their voice heard when it comes to developing Internet policies.
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The Internet, as we have come to know it, is one of the ultimate forms of democracy and expression of free speech. Some believe the Net contains perspectives on issues that circumvent the mainstream media. For others, it is an indispensable daily business or educational tool. For still others, it is their storefront. Some find the worst of our society, a charnel house of hate, pornography, and violence. If there is one thing you can say about the Internet, however, it does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, gender, content, or at times even intelligence. Every blogger has a voice and is entitled to his or her 15 minutes of fame on the Internet. To be sure, I personally can do without many of the perspectives expressed, like Elvis sightings and political mudslinging messages. Even the lunatic fringe has the right to an opinion. As soon as we begin creating “haves” and “have-nots” in cyberspace, we turn loose of some of our freedom. At least that’s how I see it, and I am not alone in this opinion.

What Is “Net Neutrality”?

Perhaps this is why the idea of maintaining Net Neutrality is important to me. It should be to you, too. Net Neutrality generally means that all connectivity infrastructure—including servers, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and transmission lines—must be content-agnostic, non-discriminatory, and provide the same level of connectivity to all its users.

Without putting it too dramatically, it appears that average Internet users stand to lose some precious personal freedoms if they do not take notice of the forces trying to shape the Internet in their own image and likeness. The average Internet user should also prepare for a fleecing from large special interests bent on creating Internet “haves” and “have-nots” based on ability to pay.

Critics of Net Neutrality (e.g., most major telecom carriers) argue that “pipeline” capacity is limited, and unless some kind of “incentive” is offered to extend broadband, they may be inclined to pick up their chips and go home. Let me try to put my opinion of this delicately: Hogwash.

At least for now, the Internet is fundamentally democratic. It does not discriminate between packets of information regardless of content or ability to pay. Will this change soon? It certainly could if special interests have their way. The answer is not to unleash these special interests from a regulatory standpoint so they can “help” us develop the Internet. Look at how well that worked out for local telecommunications competition. Have you tried to find an AT&T or Verizon competitor lately? (For that matter, have you tried to find an independent gas station? That’s just a conceptual cousin of the same problem.)

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