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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert

Have you been following the news about net neutrality in the USA? Some representatives in Congress are pushing the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act, or COPE Act. This new law could abandon a principle called "network neutrality" that prevents the major telecommunication companies (like AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast) from deciding which websites work best for you, based on what site pays them the most. This means that while we currently enjoy equal access to any site on the web, we could be seeing major corporations and commercial interests sidestepping everybody else in delivering their wares. The scariest part is that the bill has the support of members from both sides of the house, even if there are many Democrats against it. CNET's has an excellent blow-by-blow account.

There are a couple of interesting websites dedicated directly to the issue. One is from a US-based coalition of Internet users "united together in the belief that the Net's phenomenal growth over the past decade stems from the ability of entrepreneurs to expand consumer choices and opportunities without worrying about government regulation." The other is from the Coalition, which is a group of grassroots organizations, bloggers and concerned citizens banding together to protect Internet freedom. explains that "net neutrality allows everyone to compete on a level playing field and is the reason that the Internet is a force for economic innovation, civic participation and free speech. If the public doesn't speak up now, Congress will cave to a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign by telephone and cable companies that want to decide what you do, where you go, and what you watch online."

I'm sure there are others websites and movements against this. These two came across my desktop during the last 24 hours. Feel free to comment about this issue right here on my blog, especially if there are other related web links you think I should look at. If this law passes in America, it may eventually be adopted elsewhere too, possibly through a UN treaty like the one proposed via WIPO, which seems to be expanding relatively freely in the wake of the DMCA. Coupled with DRM, the end of net neutrality could result in more restrictions on creativity and innovation over the coming years.

In case you're wondering why I'm all hot and bothered by all this, I should mention that in my PhD dissertation (which I wrote about three years ago) pointed out the threats to net neurality in the arts, especially non-mainstream arts. We need to spread awareness within art schools and other art environments on these issues.

Alex Curtis over at Public Knowledge has created a great two-minute video summarizing Net Neutrality. The video explains why discrimination on the Internet is a problem and will continue to be as long as net neutrality rules are not protected and enforced. Just click on the play icon below to watch it.

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