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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Net Neutrality and the Broadcast Flag-- Oh, NO!!

Ted Stevens, the senator from Alaska, has put forth a new bill that basically trashes the rights of the common dudes and dudettes in favor of corporate bigs.

Not normally known for its' political rantings, WTKSC is taking a moment to foray into the realm of politics to URGE you to look into this issue and ACT ON IT.

The new bill is a sweeping piece of legislation aimed at the broadcasting, communications, music, and movie industries. The bill has lost what little it originally had in it as protection for Joe Sixpack when it came to the internets. Major telecom players-- think AT&T, for example-- want the right to sell your place in the flow of traffic over the internets. In essence, they'd sell the rights to "priority" traffic, so that companies and individuals who don't pay up get their content squeezed through whatever tiny amount of pipe is left. Think of it this way: e-mail could take hours or days to arrive at its' destination. "Instant" messages? Not so much. See, companies would pay so that their sites, their traffic, their information, gets to travel in a fast lane on the information highway. The rest of us schlubs who pay monthly fees for the privilege of internet access would have our content shoved to the shoulder, plodding along like a dray in a drag race with a dodge.

Search companies would have to pay through the nose to serve you your results. Sites like this one, small, independent blogs-- gone. There's no way they could ever cough up the cash to stay competitive with "real" (read: high-budget) information sites run by giant corporations.

In essence, this is a way for companies who own the networks over which all the internets' traffic travels to charge double: They charge you for your access to the information, but they'd also charge the information providers for delivering the information to your browser. Without Net Neutrality, the big telcos and infrastructure companies can regulate whose content moves and whose doesn't. They can literally stop the flow of information for lack of toll charges. But add this to the mix: information publishers would have to pay many tolls to many companies; the traffic flow of the internets use pathways through many companies' wires. In essence, the publishers would have to pay tolls for using any and all possible pathways to their end user's browser, just to ensure that their content gets there.

Without Net Neutrality, you could find yourself in the middle of a turf war between, say, AT&T and Verizon. Let's say AT&T forms a strategic partnership with Micro$oft. And to stay competitive, Verizon inks a deal with Google. If you're an AT&T customer, you won't be able to do a Google search, you could be forced to use only MSN. "But wait," you say, "I'm a cable internet subscriber." Ah, well, you'll use the search engine that your service provider tells you to. And the news sites they allow through their network. And only the blogs they collect from. And only the shopping sites who pay up. It goes on and on.

Without Net Neutrality, internet traffic becomes subject to the mercenary whims of the network owners. Rather than being "on call" to your browser whenver you want it, site such-and-such will have to pay a fee for every hit you make to their site. And if they don't pay up, you won't be able to see that site any more. Your e-mail-- freemail accounts not through your ISP-- would be subject to delivery fees. Your monthly subscription will not cover "out of network" services. (Sound familiar? "Out of network" translates to "expensive," whether it's a dentist or a website.)

The other, more lovely little piece of dastardly darwinism gets buried deep inside the bill, and will enable content providers to tag their content with a "broadcast flag." Intended to protect the rights of the likes of the RIAA and MPAA, the broadcast flag will prevent consumers from recording content. No TiVo, no VCR, no taping FM radio to hear your favorite classic rock tunes on your own schedule. No place-shifting, no time-shifting. Nada. Zip.

You either watch CSI "live" when it's first broadcast to your TV via your ($50+) cable or satellite service, or you miss it and pay another fee to see it later. No matter that your kids need your help to finish up that social studies project Thursday night, no matter that you ran late at the grocery store and missed the first segment. No more taping or TiVo-ing. You snoozed, you lost. Now cough up more bucks to see what you missed.

(Note that the going rate is $1.99 per TV episode on iTunes Music Store.)

Your husband wants to watch the playoffs during Desperate Housewives? You're buyin' it tomorrow, baby, you can't tape or TiVo your way to marital bliss.

Broadcast flag: BAD.
Net Neutrality: Good.

E-mail your congressional representative. (No, seriously. Do it.)

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