[Taxacom] access to the internet
agosti at amnh.org
Tue May 30 06:38:46 CDT 2006
I recommend all of us to read this op/ed from today NYT very carefully. And
I would also suggest, that we think on how we could voice our interest in an
open, unlimited Internet. If we loose that, we are back to square one, and
all efforts to build up adequate information tools, sharing information is
The New York Times
Why the Democratic Ethic of the World Wide Web May Be About to End
By ADAM COHEN
Published: May 28, 2006
The World Wide Web is the most democratic mass medium there has ever been.
Freedom of the press, as the saying goes, belongs only to those who own one.
Radio and television are controlled by those rich enough to buy a broadcast
license. But anyone with an Internet-connected computer can reach out to a
potential audience of billions.
This democratic Web did not just happen. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the British
computer scientist who invented the Web in 1989, envisioned a platform on
which everyone in the world could communicate on an equal basis. But his
vision is being threatened by telecommunications and cable companies, and
other Internet service providers, that want to impose a new system of fees
that could create a hierarchy of Web sites. Major corporate sites would be
able to pay the new fees, while little-guy sites could be shut out.
Sir Tim, who keeps a low profile, has begun speaking out in favor of "net
neutrality," rules requiring that all Web sites remain equal on the Web.
Corporations that stand to make billions if they can push tiered pricing
through have put together a slick lobbying and marketing campaign. But Sir
Tim and other supporters of net neutrality are inspiring growing support
from Internet users across the political spectrum who are demanding that
Congress preserve the Web in its current form.
The Web, which Sir Tim invented as a scientist at CERN, the European nuclear
physics institute, is often confused with the Internet. But like e-mail, the
Web runs over the system of interconnected computer networks known as the
Internet. Sir Tim created the Web in a decentralized way that allowed anyone
with a computer to connect to it and begin receiving and sending
That open architecture is what has allowed for the extraordinary growth of
Internet commerce and communication. Pierre Omidyar, a small-time programmer
working out of his home office, was able to set up an online auction site
that anyone in the world could reach - which became eBay. The blogging
phenomenon is possible because individuals can create Web sites with the
World Wide Web prefix, www, that can be seen by anyone with Internet access.
Last year, the chief executive of what is now AT&T sent shock waves through
cyberspace when he asked why Web sites should be able to "use my pipes
free." Internet service providers would like to be able to charge Web sites
for access to their customers. Web sites that could not pay the new fees
would be accessible at a slower speed, or perhaps not be accessible at all.
A tiered Internet poses a threat at many levels. Service providers could,
for example, shut out Web sites whose politics they dislike. Even if they
did not discriminate on the basis of content, access fees would
automatically marginalize smaller, poorer Web sites.
Consider online video, which depends on the availability of higher-speed
connections. Internet users can now watch channels, like BBC World, that are
not available on their own cable systems, and they have access to video
blogs and Web sites like YouTube.com, where people upload videos of their
own creation. Under tiered pricing, Internet users might be able to get
videos only from major corporate channels.
Sir Tim expects that there are great Internet innovations yet to come, many
involving video. He believes people at the scene of an accident - or a
political protest - will one day be able to take pictures with their
cellphones that could be pieced together to create a three-dimensional image
of what happened. That sort of innovation could be blocked by fees for the
high-speed connections required to relay video images.
The companies fighting net neutrality have been waging a misleading
campaign, with the slogan "hands off the Internet," that tries to look like
a grass-roots effort to protect the Internet in its current form. What they
actually favor is stopping the government from protecting the Internet, so
they can get their own hands on it.
But the other side of the debate has some large corporate backers, too, like
Google and Microsoft, which could be hit by access fees since they depend on
the Internet service providers to put their sites on the Web. It also has
support from political groups of all persuasions. The president of the
Christian Coalition, which is allied with Moveon.org on this issue, recently
asked, "What if a cable company with a pro-choice board of directors decides
that it doesn't like a pro-life organization using its high-speed network to
encourage pro-life activities?"
Forces favoring a no-fee Web have been gaining strength. One group,
Savetheinternet.com, says it has collected more than 700,000 signatures on a
petition. Last week, a bipartisan bill favoring net neutrality, sponsored by
James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, and John Conyers Jr., Democrat
of Michigan, won a surprisingly lopsided vote in the House Judiciary
Sir Tim argues that service providers may be hurting themselves by pushing
for tiered pricing. The Internet's extraordinary growth has been fueled by
the limitless vistas the Web offers surfers, bloggers and downloaders.
Customers who are used to the robust, democratic Web may not pay for one
that is restricted to wealthy corporate content providers.
"That's not what we call Internet at all," says Sir Tim. "That's what we
call cable TV."
Dr. Donat Agosti
Research Associate, American Museum of Natural History and Naturmuseum der
Email: agosti at amnh.org
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