Telecom Firms Seek to Divide Internet

Commentator Craig Newmark, known best for his popular site Craigslist.com, says big telecommunications companies can't be trusted to play fairly on the issue of "net neutrality." This is the second of two views on the issue.

Most Americans believe that if you play fair and work hard, you'll get ahead. And this applies to the internet, which is more or less a level playing field for everyone. We call it net neutrality.

Right now, you can start a business on the net. You place a server somewhere, and you have an equal shot at serving customers well. However, execs at big telecoms want to create a system of privilege for people who can pay more. Here's an example if we apply this idea to the phone system.

Let's say you call Joe's Pizza and the first thing you hear is a message saying you'll be connected in a minute or two, but if you want, you can be connected to Pizza Hut right away. Would that be fair?

The telecom execs tell us they can be trusted to play fair and not extend privileges unfairly. These guys forget that they get the use of public resources, like airwaves and public rights-of-way. They've built their businesses on our resources and made a lot of money. The telecom and cable guys say: “Don't worry; trust us.” But have they earned that trust?

Consider: Why do the telecom companies block some high-tech services on reaching our cell phones? Or how about the fake grassroots Web sites the telecom industry has set up to support its cause. These sites send a consistent message, and its not that the sponsors are trustworthy. They're into “truthiness,” not trust.

The telecom execs claim they need lots of cash to build an infrastructure but forget to tell us that most of the investment has already been made in what's called dark fiber. The expensive part - laying the wires - has already been paid for.

They say that keeping the net neutral, as it is now, involves more government intervention and regulation, but really the opposite is true. Let's keep the net as it is now: neutral, fair and free.

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