Net Neutrality

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

For just about everyone, a strong internet connection is highly valued. But there's a fight going on, which could limit what you see and hear on the net. The core issue is net neutrality. Net neutrality is the principle that all content on the Internet should be accessed and delivered at the same speed without discrimination or restrictions. It's about free speech and equal rights to the Internet.

Net neutrality proponents argue that whether someone wants to access eBay, a personal blog or an illegal bit torrent site, the speed of access should be the same. And the content should be unedited. Net neutrality is an equal playing field for all content.

The controversy over net neutrality came into the courts in 2008, when the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, issued a cease and desist notice to the Internet service provider Comcast. Comcast had been slowing Internet access to customers who heavily used bitTorrent file sharing programs. They claimed they needed to limit the use of these high volume downloaders to preserve bandwidth for their other consumers.

So, to preserve net neutrality, the FCC tried to stop Comcast from slowing internet access. Comcast responded by suing the FCC, arguing the Commission didn't have the right to limit how Comcast ran its business.

Just a week ago, a federal appeals court ruled that the FCC did not have the authority to ensure net neutrality. Comcast won that round.

The issue is extremely contentious, simply because so much is at stake. There are giant institutions on both sides. Vonage, Google, and Microsoft are proponents of net neutrality, while Comcast and Time Warner are staunchly opposed. The argument boils down to a simple question:

What is the Internet? If the answer is it's most like your phone service, then companies like Comcast could charge different rates depending on bandwidth usage. Or they might charge websites to control how information flows.

If the Internet is like a public utility, such as the gas company, then a federal agency such as the FCC should be able to regulate it. And we would all have equal access to the web.

Musicians have a lot to lose if there's no net neutrality. Independent artists could easily become marginalized, in just the same way they have on commercial radio. Only the most well funded artists could receive full and rapid access on the web. And YouTube stars like Pamplemoose, OK Go and Lily Allen might never have gotten their start.

In fact, in every segment of the web, the effect of no net neutrality has serious consequences.

Our most valuable technological resource is the world wide web. We knew that the day would come when we'd need to protect it. That day is now.

Talk with your Congressmen and women. Net Neutrality is the only way to foster technological leadership, innovation and cultural growth.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.