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Keep the Internet equally accessible for everyone
August 30, 2010
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by Mark Ollig

The FCC’s public hearing on net neutrality in Minneapolis Aug. 19 looked to be more of a future Internet town hall meeting.

My understanding of net neutrality ensures all websites, social networks, blogs and other publicly available sites have equal accessibility over the Internet network by all Internet users.

In summary; all Internet traffic should be treated equally.

I do recognize the companies who make available and maintain the Internet network have the right to a fair return on the services they provide – however, there are definite concerns many of us have if there is no net neutrality.

Here’s one possible future scenario I can imagine:

The corporations operating various parts of the Internet network could begin to offer preferential treatment to a larger website or social network by providing them with an ‘enhanced’ Internet service. They could offer, say, a “premium Internet presence” option for a substantial monthly fee.

This additional cost might consist of exclusive bandwidth allocation or some type of “guaranteed” preferred connection availability to their website over that of a similar website not paying the extra fee.

In this tiered service scenario, preferential treatment takes place over smaller business and individual sites that are unable to afford the premium service fee imposed by the companies used to maintain their presence on the Internet.

With no net neutrality, the Internet could turn into the network of toll-roads and cash registers – essentially blocking out or reducing the bandwidth availability to many websites. Internet service providers could possibly begin charging Internet users access to popular sites on the Web currently reachable for free.

I do not believe this is what the original pioneers of the Internet culture, the virtual community, and those who established the Web envisioned for the future.

Okay, I will step off of my soapbox . . . for now.

The hearing was being live-streamed at The UpTake website. The UpTake also provided a chat room for online users text messages and comments which I participated in.

The UpTake was established in July 2007, and is a “citizen-fueled, online video news gathering organization” based in St. Paul. It is made up of citizen journalists. The UpTake says they are “an alternative to the mainstream media.”

Online messaging about the hearing was also taking place on Twitter, so I was text messaging there, as well.

FCC commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, along with Senator Al Franken, appeared at the hearing.

Ritchie opened the hearing with “. . . we’re gathered to share, we’re gathered to help shape the future.”

Franken spoke on the importance of keeping the Internet open to everyone and not allowing it to be controlled by the large corporations.

“Without net neutrality, Internet access would be determined by the four or five corporations that could determine what info gets out,” Franken said.

Copps stated he “. . . will not settle for profit driven corporate-owned Internet that doesn’t benefit the people.”

“Our job now is to correct course and reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service,” he said.

“An open Internet is the great equalizer,” said Clyburn in her remarks to the people in attendance. She continued, “Without a free and open Internet, we wouldn’t have seen Facebook, Twitter or YouTube in less than 10 years.”

“More Americans rely on the Internet each and every day, it has become the center of our economic lives and essential to our futures,” she said.

On Twitter, some messages expressed concerns about the government regulating the Internet. Others spoke out against the large network carrier’s possible intent of selling “preferential access” bandwidth.

One message said “by controlling Internet access, they are, for all practical purposes, acting as the Internet gatekeepers.”

“The Internet should be a level playing field for everyone,” another message read.

Twitter buzzed with messages using hashtags like “internetmn,” “netneutrality” and “fccnn.”

Over 100 people from the audience spoke during the public hearing. I noted most were expressing the importance of having the Internet remain fully open and equally accessible by everyone.

“Let’s build broadband, not bombs,” said one audience member standing before the commissioners.

The statement received loud applause.

At one point the number of people watching the live-stream videocast over the Internet reached 800.

“This is what an open Internet looks like. . .” one Twitter message stated after seeing this number.

The hearing lasted a full four hours.

After the hearing concluded, some of us spoke online with the people from The UpTake about how this event turned out to be a good example of citizen journalism, government representation, and public and online participation.

People’s voices were heard. Hopefully their concerns will be taken, into account when final decisions regarding net neutrality are made.

Watch the complete public hearing at: http://tinyurl.com/25qpwok.


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