18 August 2008

Net Neutrality: Why You Should Give a Damn

Photo by Sean Nel.

'Too much creative control is in the hands of too few people who aren't creative'
By Michael Janover / August 16, 2008

OK, I'm old. I was around when Channel 2 went on the air in Denver in the early 50's and brought us Blinky the Clown. It was exciting. Television. In Colorado!

In the mid-60s, cable TV and the dish staked their claims, and folks in the mountains could finally see Star Trek and Mary Tyler Moore. A whole new world was opening, no longer limited by four or five basic channels. Cable and satellite promised real choice. Hundreds of channels! Wow! You could see anything!

So what happened to all the choices?

Why is it that TV and the movies are always the same old, same old?

For one thing, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made it possible to merge control of the television and film industries into fewer and fewer networks. What started out as infinite possibilities gradually became three super networks. These entities gobbled up the studio system and the cable channels. Creative decisions were gradually assumed by corporate boards that prefer safe, tested and bland to innovative, daring and dramatic. It's one of the reasons hard news became infotainment, and rich, life-changing drama is now "reality" programming.

Too much creative control is in the hands of too few people who aren't creative.

The beginning of the 80s was the start of the Computer Age. I went out and bought a Kaypro, a clunky box, with black screen and glowing green text. It was great. Totally cutting edge.

Computers became more wonderful with color graphics and the mouse thingy, but the most amazing and subversive change was INTERNET. In a few short years, it turned the planet into one big neighborhood; and with broadband access, it also offered interactivity.

We are no longer simple couch potatoes in front of the living room TV. Today, we're interactive potatoes and use computers to communicate, shop, or read and comment about everything from elections to Dancing With the Stars. We converse with people around the country and world as if they lived across the street. How quaint and microscopic those "hundreds of channels" seem now.

Blogs and YouTube are the new political language. They were vital in the Writer's Guild's recent successful struggle with management - the very people who own the mainstream media. Truth is, the Internet does more to democratize the world than any of the wars currently being waged. It truly offers an infinity of choices that TV can't deliver, and freedom of interactivity that telephones only dream of.

Something this massive and good just begs for someone to control it, don't you think?

Well, that group has surfaced. It's not the Chinese government, not even your government. No, it's the telecommunications companies. The same folks who offer you three-tiered packages of programming instead of just charging you for the shows you want to see; the same people who offer expensive long distance packages when you can do better for next to nothing over the Internet; and the same people who want immunity from prosecution for accidentally illegally wiretapping millions of our phone conversations.

Since the telecoms deliver the Internet to you, they think the government should grant them the power to control how you use it. They want to make more money and put limits on what you see and how you see it. In their world, websites should be charged for the privilege of being seen by their customers. And sites should pay extra for making it possible for consumers to download their material faster (-- by removing the telecom's artificial restraints). Failure to pay these tolls results in your site not being seen, or in ultra-lengthy download times that drive impatient users elsewhere.

Imagine going online to CNN or to download music or watch an old TV show, but the feed is so slow that it no longer works properly. The grass on your lawn is growing faster. Why? Because someone didn't pay tacked-on fees to the local cable or phone company, and the feed was restricted.

The Telecoms are spending millions to convince Congressional candidates that giving them control makes for a less expensive, better Internet. As you read this, they’re donating money like there's no tomorrow, because after this election, the new Congress will be forced to decide if Telecoms should be given this power.

"Net Neutrality" basically means "Leave the Internet alone," and it's the battle cry for those who think handing over management and control of information to a few mega-corporations is the worst possible idea.

Net Neutrality isn't another "nutty left wing crusade." Internet giants like Google and Microsoft, consumer advocates such as Consumer Reports, small businesses who might be relegated to the slow lane, and iPod users who might find it harder to download tunes -- all want to maintain Net Neutrality.

"Maintain" is the magic word. Net Neutrality doesn't ask for new regulations; it only wants to be sure that the freedom we already have is preserved. If you believe in a true open market and don't want to give your freedom of choice to some corporate Big Brother, if you don't want your Internet experience censored or restricted, if you enjoy watching YouTube or visiting Facebook without limitations - you probably support Net Neutrality without even realizing it.

It's time for you to speak up and ask a few questions. Now is when you have the clout. Does your Senate candidate support maintaining freedom of the Internet - or increasing profits for the Telecoms? If you don't know, find out.

For more detailed information on the fight to save the Internet, please check out www.freepress.net/files/nn_fact_v_fiction_final.pdf, a fact sheet put together by Free Press, the Consumers Union, and Consumer Federation of America.

[Michael Janover grew up in Denver and went to school and graduated from CU in Boulder in 1967. He’s been a WGA writer since 1978, worked for HAWAII 5-O, Wide World of Disney and wrote THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT while in Hollywood. He also helped start the Colorado Film School in Aurora.]

© Rocky Mountain News

Source / Rocky Mountain News

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