By Matt Bauer, president and co-founder of BetterWorld Telecom, and board member of the American Sustainable Business COuncil and the Buisiness Alliance for Local Living Economies
The absence of Net neutrality would suddenly create an uneven playing field in the U.S. telecoms market. Even though dominated by an oligopoly of large carriers, there still remains healthy competition, because of regulations around the common-carrier industry. As noted at Cybertelecom.org: “The concept of "Network Neutrality" is essentially traditional Common Carriage, common carriers of goods, people, and information such as trains, planes, buses, and telephone companies. They cannot discriminate with regard to what they carry or where they carry it. Common carriage embodies the ideal that the efficient movement of goods and information is essential to our economy, our culture and our nation, and therefore carriers must not discriminate or favor particular content or individuals.”
But with the success of the Internet has come the desire of Internet service providers to maximize control over openness in order to increase profits.
The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has reported that broadband providers already have started blocking or degrading content and applications without informing users. The only way to end these violations of the open Internet principles of 2005 and maintain the openness of the Internet is to allow the FCC’s 2010 regulations to go into effect, something Republicans in Congress are intent on stopping.
The FCC net-neutrality rules will establish:
Transparency. Fixed and mobile broadband providers must disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics, and terms and conditions of their broadband services.
No Blocking. Fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices; mobile broadband providers may not block lawful Web sites or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services; and
No Unreasonable Discrimination. Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.”
But while the FCC seeks to ensure continued openness of the Internet without corporate gatekeepers, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s resolution to block these regulations is based on the bogus allegation that they would stifle competition and jobs. This continuation of the mantra that all regulations are bad is nothing more than a front for the corporate greed of Internet service providers.
The truth is that if we want to make sure small businesses can grow with the assistance of broadband, the Internet must remain open. We must, as the FCC says, “ensure the Internet remains an open platform—one characterized by free markets and free speech—that enables consumer choice, end-user control, competition through low barriers to entry and freedom to innovate without permission.”
Unfortunately, Sen. Hutchinson’s resolution will help end Net neutrality by allowing toll roads and the old-fashioned top-down control that is creeping our way.
Sen. John Kerry recently correctly observed that if the resolution to block FCC net-neutrality regulations passes, it "will stifle innovation and discourage investment in the next Google or Amazon." The FCC rules do not regulate the Internet, Sen. Kerry said, but instead regulate "the behavior of firms owning and operating the gateways to the Internet."
As the future economy and work as we know it will be partially or fully tethered to some form of the Internet, openness is critical to ALL Americans. Whether you live in New York City, Morgantown, W.Va., or Carnation, Wash., we all need the power to work anytime, anywhere. This trend is increasing every year and is one major vehicle for transcending our current economic struggles. With this potential, why willingly empower corporations to start instituting tolls and selective pricing on any aspect of the Internet?
Don’t let history repeat itself. Let’s allow the FCC’s Net neutrality, innovation and competition to thrive without corporate concentration and control.
Matt Bauer is president and co-founder of BetterWorld Telecom, co-author and editor of the Nonprofit Guide to Going Green, and board member of the American Sustainable Business Council and the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.