The wrong way to spread broadband

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren warns that corporate favoritism could put long-held Internet freedoms at risk.

3 min read
In 1776, a short pamphlet by Thomas Paine called "Common Sense" became a runaway hit in the American colonies, rallying George Washington's Continental Army to the cause of American Independence.

If Thomas Paine had lived today, he could write a blog about the need to protect Internet independence that would reach across the world.

The Internet is the most important new communications platform in American history. Through an open Internet, ordinary individuals can directly reach an audience of hundreds of millions of people around the world with their words, music, art, photography and literature--with just about any kind of creation imaginable. The freedom for ordinary people to connect with one another has led to some remarkable innovation.

The Internet is the most important new communications platform in American history.

Two Stanford Ph.D. students founded Google while working out of a dorm room. and in less than 10 years. they grew it into the world's leading search engine. eBay's founder wrote some auction software for his personal Web site, and now millions of buyers and sellers use eBay to trade with one another every day. Before Yahoo became one of the most popular Web portals, it started as a hobby on a student computer workstation.

These examples attest to how the Internet empowers ordinary people to change the world. And with a free Internet, the ability of the next innovation to change the world is ever present.

But recently, the freedom of ordinary people to connect with one another has come under attack. A few large corporations don't seem to value the Internet's empowerment of individuals and are asserting a desire to control technology.

The latest chapter in that attack on freedom is the fight against Net neutrality. For most Americans, our options for broadband Internet come down to two choices--a phone company or a cable company.

Instead of continuing our freedom to use those connections with whatever content, devices and services we want, some corporations want to control what we access over the Internet. This would include giving better connections to their favored content and charging money for that privilege.

What would the world look like if the Internet had been controlled in this way a few years ago? Imagine if the students who created Google or Yahoo had been charged a fee by a phone company for the privilege of letting their potential users have fast access. These small projects would not have turned into big ideas that revolutionized the World Wide Web.

The proposed control of content goes directly against the level playing field created by Internet technology. The concept of freedom written about by Thomas Paine is being challenged by this threat to Net neutrality.

This would include giving better connections to their favored content and charging money for that privilege.

The fight to preserve Net neutrality is in full swing in Congress. On April 26, the House Commerce Committee passed up its chance to keep the Internet open by taking Net neutrality provisions out of its telecommunications bill.

I serve on the House Judiciary Committee, which also has a vital role to play in keeping the Internet open through its antitrust jurisdiction. Right now, we are caught in a jurisdiction fight with the House leadership on the issue of whether my committee is allowed to weigh in on this issue of vital importance to the Internet's future.

My colleague Rick Boucher of Virginia and I have been working together on antitrust legislation to preserve Net neutrality. This legislation would impose antitrust penalties on broadband access providers that attempt to demand fees from Web content providers in exchange for priority treatment of their search, shopping and information retrieval services.

The Internet has revolutionized the way Americans communicate with one another and do business. It's just common sense to keep that revolution where it belongs--in the hands of ordinary individuals instead of a handful of big corporations. Americans' Internet freedom depends on it.