Verizon's Not-So-Secret Plan to Kill the Open Internet (and Why You Should Care)

Net neutrality guarantees that all Web surfers have equal access to online content. Verizon and other telecom giants want to kill net neutrality and restrict customer Internet access, but CIO.com blogger Bill Snyder says you should do everything you can to stop them.

You can, and should, ignore many of the tech buzzwords you hear, but these are two you should keep in mind: Net neutrality.

Simply put, net neutrality is the principle that the Internet is open to everyone and all types of content without discrimination, with a few obvious exceptions, such as child pornography. Verizon, the giant telecommunications provider, is trying to kill net neutrality with the spurious legal argument that it somehow impinges upon its right to free speech.

Don’t be fooled. And don’t think this is just an issue for policy wonks. If Verizon gets what it wants, it and other providers including Comcast and AT&T would essentially be able to specify the websites customers can and cannot access. Verizon argues that because it owns the "pipes" that content providers use to deliver content, it has the right to charge them for the privilege. Or even block them.

Verizon isn't the only telecom giant with this idea in mind. Comcast and its allies say that just as a newspaper has the right to print, or not print, whatever it chooses, they have the right to carry or not carry whatever online content they chose.

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Take the streaming service Netflix, for example. Verizon would love to charge that company for streaming movies - movies you already pay a subscription fee for - to your PC, smartphone or tablet. But the same could apply to a startup that has a new service or a new kind of app.

Right now, Web surfers can access any form of content online as long as it doesn’t harm the network or violate the law.

And it's not just telecom companies moving in this direction. ESPN, for instance, is in negotiations with at least one major wireless carrier to pay to exempt its content from wireless data caps. What’s wrong with that? ESPN is big and rich and can pay, but other content providers, think of your local jazz station that streams audio, couldn’t afford it and could be out of business.

The U.S. Court of Appeals may not rule in Verizon's favor this time. But this issue won’t go away. Verizon and other carriers will fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the conservative, pro-business majority, might well rule in their favor. After all, this is court that believes corporations are people with a right to free speech.

Ultimately, Congress needs to act to enshrine net neutrality into law. That may sound extreme or unrealistic, but if you don’t like the idea of Verizon or Comcast or Time Warner telling you what you may and may not do on the Internet, give it some thought and take the time to write a letter to your local representative.

Image: Theatreofreason

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