Viewpoint: Fight shaping up over free Internet

If you are a frequent user of the Internet, and you are not concerned about its future, you should be. A vicious battle is shaping up in the U.S. Senate to decide who will control the Web.

Corporate fascism is poised to grab access control and turn the Internet into a giant propaganda machine—sort of a Fox News of cyberspace.

Joshua Frank, writing for Online, pointed out the kind of future the telecommunications corporations have in mind for the rest of us who depend on the Internet to obtain information for our daily lives: “These corporations very well could decide what is and what isn’t available to be viewed on the Internet. They could price the little guys out. It could be like the Wal-Mart of the Web. They could very well control most content, and pick what you can and cannot see, read or listen to. It’d be the end of Internet democracy in the United States, where all sites can be accessed.”

The Senate is expected to vote in the near future on legislation to settle this issue of Net neutrality. The Senate Commerce Committee already has turned down a bill that would have kept the Internet free.

In an article on Information, Antone Gonzalves reported the committee voted 11-11 on an amendment that would have barred the corporate plan. The vote meant the amendment was stripped from the bill.

Gonzalves quoted Adam Green, spokesman for Civic Action: “There will be an epic battle in the Senate over Net neutrality.” Green’s group is part of a coalition fighting for the bill.

At the same time, Frank reported, a group called “Hands off the Internet” is carrying on a sneaky campaign to undermine free access. Some of the powers behind this effort, which poses as advocates of the present system, are Verizon, AT&T and BellSouth, Frank said.

A former Clinton spokesman, Mike McCurry, claims Net neutrality will kill the Internet. According to Frank, McCurry wrote: “The Internet is not a free public good. It is a bunch of wires and switches and connections and pipes and it is creaky.”

The fate of the telecom reform bill hangs on this issue of free Internet access. Congress returns to “work” in September, but they will be focused on the looming November mid-term elections, and it is unlikely anything will be accomplished. In the interim, lobbyists for both sides are frantically pressing lawmakers to favor their points of view.

Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is spearheading the battle for a continued free access Internet, according to Information Week. Gonzalves said Wyden made some remarks recently in the Senate that some perceived as heralding a filibuster attempt.

Wyden said: “I believe these changes are so important, mean so much to our country, it ought to be possible for the Senate to slow this down and take the time to really consider what the implications are of a badly flawed piece of legislation with respect to its treatment of the Internet,” according to Information Week.

Advocates of the present free system, like Google and Yahoo, say we must keep the Internet open to startups and smaller companies that can’t afford fees for faster delivery of services. Anti-forces argue that the law is not needed because there is no hint that companies that own the broadband networks we have would discriminate against companies who could not pay for greater bandwidth.

Another factor hanging over this debate is the recent move by the federal government to solicit bids on the contract to run the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). The IANA is a California-based, part-private, part-public body reporting to the U.S. Department of Commerce, according to the UK’s The Independent.

At the time, February 2006, reporter Kieren McCarthy, writing for The, commented: “The U.S. government has taken the extraordinary step of dangling the contract for control of the Internet above the heads of the world.”

The IANA maintains the “root zone file.” which is the top directory of the Internet and decides who runs all branches of the Web. It allocates domain names and IP addresses and controls the contracts for all .coms, .nets and other domain names, and also decides which new top-level domains should be created, according to The

Frustrated by what he sees as a lack of openness, McCarthy has decided to run for one of three positions available on the IANA board in December.

“ICANN [Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers] is at a big turning point at the moment,” McCarthy told The “It survived the world summit process, but at the same time has managed to annoy the technical community it is there to represent. It is trying to be more open and transparent but just doesn’t seem to know how. So, I thought about it and decided I should stick my money where my mouth is and stand.”

ICANN is not an arm of government. It is an international technical coordination group.

Last year, the European Union proposed that control of the Internet be moved to the United Nations Working Group on Internet Governance. That initiative was successfully repulsed by the U.S.

The writing is on the wall; if we want a free Internet to continue, we need to bombard our legislators with demands that they represent us and not the corporations. A “neutral” Net is vital; without it, we will lose control of one of the last remaining outposts of our freedoms.

From the July 19-25, 2006, issue

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