Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: No Throttling the Internet; Our View; President Barack Obama's Call for Internet Regulation to Preserve Free and Open Access Is the Right Move

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: No Throttling the Internet; Our View; President Barack Obama's Call for Internet Regulation to Preserve Free and Open Access Is the Right Move

Article excerpt

Giving giant Internet service providers what they want insulation from the economic realities of the marketplace is the surest way to turn the now-vibrant industry into a lethargic and moribund enterprise.

That's why President Barack Obama's call last week for the Federal Communications Commission to regulate Internet providers like the public utilities they are was absolutely on target.

The president's proposal is intended to safeguard "net neutrality," as it's called, meaning that it will prevent Internet access companies from being allowed to profit by giving preference to certain types of online traffic. The access providers have done it in the past, specifically for the content-provider giant Netflix, which cut a deal originally with Comcast and later with other providers to ensure that their data get preferential delivery.

The providers, such as Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Charter Communications, don't want their golden spigot turned off. These giant companies are in an enviable position. They have no real competition in many parts of the country and exploit their market power to extract monopoly fees from content providers to access the Internet. They do the same when they provide broadband access to consumers and engage in annoying restrictive practices, such as requiring customers to rent modems or pay for other additional equipment.

The biggest concern is that they will play favorites for a price and speed up content from companies like Google and Netflix that can afford to get to the top of the providers' bandwidth. Critics fear the result would be a two-tiered system, in which companies with deep pockets would get their data delivered at blistering speeds while the data of those without money such as innovative start-ups and small businesses would crawl along in a congested, snail-paced lane.

There is also concern about subjectivity. Providers who control access could go so far as to deliberately cripple transmission of data that they find objectionable. For instance, many of the big access providers also offer telephone service. They could conceivably interfere with Internet products, such as Skype, that compete with traditional phone service. Cable companies might want to slow down a service like Netflix that competes with their paid television service.

The chill it would put on innovation would be even more regrettable. The next YouTube or Amazon or even Facebook (let's not forget Mark Zuckerberg created it in his Harvard dorm room and didn't need anybody's permission to slap it up on the Internet) would have barriers to the marketplace.

Another big concern is freedom of speech. That's right, Gene Kimmelman of the advocacy group Public Knowledge, says he fears broadband providers could use their power to pick and choose data delivery that supports their own political preferences. …

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