Commercialization and Future Access to the Internet Highway

Chronique de Rodrigue Tremblay

"Perhaps the most obvious political effect of
controlled news is the advantage it gives powerful
people in getting their issues on the political agenda
and defining those issues in ways likely to influence
their resolution."

W. Lance Bennett
"The Bush majority on the FCC has bowed to the
interests of the big cable and telephone companies to
strip away, or undo, the Internet’s basic DNA of
openness and non-discrimination.”

Bill Moyers
American Telegraph neutrality law;
"...messages received from any individual, company, or
corporation, or from any telegraph lines connecting
with this line at either of its termini, shall be
impartially transmitted in the order of their
reception, excepting that the dispatches of the
government shall have priority."

An act to facilitate communication between the
Atlantic and Pacific states by electric telegraph.,
June 16, 1860

On January 3, 2007, the New York Times
ran an editorial entitled "Protecting Internet
Democracy". What the Times was referring to, was the
need to uphold the "principle of Net Neutrality", the
principle according to which Internet service
providers (ISPs—essentially mega cable and telephone
companies, such as AT&T, Verizon, Bell South, Comcast
and other phone and cable giants which own physical
infrastructures), should not be able to favor some
users over others, because [such a power would
inevitably lead to censorship.->]

Indeed, what the giant telecommunications companies
would like to obtain from politicians and from the
five-person Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is
the right to filter content and commercialize the
Internet, using broadband lines, and to
price-discriminate between users. They would like to
obtain the right to charge websites to deliver their
content to consumers and to give preferential service
to favored clients by setting up special toll booths
on the [information
Their purpose is to be able to establish a two-tiered
Internet system, with fast high fare lanes and slower
lower fare lanes. Net-accessing users who pay hefty
fees would have their Web pages delivered on the
Internet in the current speedy fashion; other users
who do not fork over a ton of cash to the service
providers would be relegated to the slow lanes and
would be placed at a big disadvantage. In such a
system, the big Internet users would have access to
exclusive deals and would become bigger, while the
individuals, the creators, the innovators and the
other small users would remain small or disappear.
—Only the richest corporations would have access to
the prime bandwidth opened by telecommunications
corporations, while other smaller Internet users would
be left behind.
Mind you, Internet users already pay more depending on
the volume of data they ask servers to carry, just as
trucks pay higher license fees than cars on public
highways. What the service providers would like to do
is different: they would like to divide the Internet
into many different speed lanes and charge a different
fee for each lane. It would be as if a public highway
were charging different fees depending on whether one
car happens to be on the 50-mile lane, the 60-mile
lane, the 70-mile lane, etc. It is easy to understand
why such a system, if implemented in a quasi monopoly
environment, would be a money-grabbing scheme.
These are the stakes for the Internet information
superhighway. [The welfare and freedom of hundreds of
millions of Internet
users are pitted against the financial interests of a
few greedy and very rich Internet providers. Will the
politicians side with the people and the principle of
free speech and the spirit of anti-monopoly laws by
passing a 'net neutrality law' enjoining the FCC to
require cable and telephone companies to continue
providing Web sites to Internet users on an equal and
nondiscriminatory basis, —or, will they buckle under
the pressure of the cable and phone lobbies, and allow
the exploitation of the many by the few? Net
neutrality laws for common Net carriers have been
adopted in many countries, including the United
Kingdom, South Korea, and Japan, but not yet in [the
United States->].
In non-democratic countries, such as in Communist
China, governments have implemented a digital divide
by establishing [countrywide content
To understand what is at stake here, we have to
consider that the Internet has been an unprecedented
technological innovation that has democratized access
to unfiltered information worldwide and has allowed
creative new content provider companies, like [Google,
Microsoft,->] Yahoo, eBay,
Wikipedia and
others, to start small and grow larger. Just reflect
that there are more than 100 million WEB sites in the
world today. Therefore, it is not surprising that
governments and corporations alike are following this
explosion of free information with some trepidation,
but for different reasons.
The reason people must be vigilant and act
appropriately is that, in the past, powerful money
interests have succeeded in persuading distracted or
venal politicians to pass bad laws that turn up to be
very much against the public interest. For instance,
probably one of the worst laws ever adopted in the
U.S. was the 1996 Telecom Act,
passed by a Republican Congress but signed by Democrat
President Bill Clinton. This law has opened wide the
door to media ownership concentration in the U.S. and
placed American consumers at the mercy of a handful
huge conglomerates, most of them far-right
conservative Republicans, which exercise near complete
monopoly power over local electronic information
channels, such as radio, TV or cable services. The
predictable effect of this law has been more ownership
concentration, less competition, less choice for the
consumers and higher prices for reduced services. In
other words, this was a law designed to promote
special economic interests at the expense of the
general public good. The end result of the law is
there for everyone to see today. Nearly all broadcast
news in the U.S. originates from [one of six huge media
Viacom(CBS), General Electric's NBC, Time Warner
(CNN), Disney (ABC), Fox News Corp, and Clear Channel
The principle that airwaves and cyberspace belong to
all the people and are public property needs to be
reaffirmed, as the above mentioned 1860 U.S. law
establishing [freedom of access to the big invention of
the time, the
A law guaranteeing freedom of access to the Internet
is as much required as the law guaranteeing access to
the telegraph one hundred and fifty years ago. A
“tiered Internet” would be a terrible blow to consumer
choice and to freedom of information. It should be
opposed by all who value freedom and fairness.
In the future, democratic governments should consider
favoring the creation of not-for-profit Internet
service providers [not-for-profit Internet service
providers] as they already exist in some large cities.
Indeed, the Internet is a basic economic and social
infrastructure and should be viewed as [a public
utility,->] on
the same level as electricity and the telephone.
Rodrigue Tremblay lives in Montreal and can be reached
Visit his blog site at:
Author's Website:
Check Dr. Tremblay's coming book at:

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