It's up to Congress now to protect Net Neutrality

Today, the United States Justice Department came out against “Net Neutrality,” endorsing the concept of allowing telecom companies to decide which websites and online services it will allow its customers to access, and at what speeds. The U.S. Congress must respond swiftly, by enacting legislation to preserve net neutrality and protect the interests of small publishers and private citizens.

The Justice Department bought the industry line that it needs to be allowed to charge publishers more to serve their content faster than others, in order to raise money for capital expansion of the Internet. From the department’s press release:

“The Department also noted that differentiating service levels and pricing is a common and often efficient way of allocating scarce resources and satisfying consumer demand. The U.S. Postal Service, for example, allows consumers to send packages with a variety of different delivery guarantees and speeds, from bulk mail to overnight delivery. These differentiated services respond to market demand and expand consumer choice.”

Make no mistake: The battle over net neutrality is a battle over control of the content on the Internet. Those attacking net neutrality want to return to the pre-1995 era, when high distribution costs, such as the postal service’s differentiated service and pricing levels, created a formidable barrier to entry for publishers, preserving corporate control over almost all entertainment and news media.

Those supporting net neutrality, myself included, point to the explosion in people-powered media over the past decade, which was made possible by the unprecedented ability of individuals, anywhere, to publish to a global platform, on an equal footing with corporate media.

Yes, publishers who serve millions of readers each day ought to pay more to have their content on the Web than those who serve dozens. But they already do. The industry’s plan, however, would charge individual publishers different rates for bandwidth based on negotiated deals. AT&T, for example, could cut a deal with Fox News, serving its content to subscribers at a faster rate than that of the New York Times. And people-powered sites from DailyKos to Free Republic would be left with the digital scraps, their readers waiting while AT&T gives higher priority to requests for webpages from its corporate partners.

Here’s another analogy: Let’s contrast the Internet, with its current policy of net neutrality, against cell phone networks, where telecoms can decide which content to deliver. Which offers you more content, more powerful services and at lower cost? Which allows you, personally, to speak to more people around the world, at next to no cost?

It’s no contest. That’s why publishers and consumer advocates from across the ideological spectrum, from MoveOn to the Christian Coalition, have endorsed the continuation of net neutrality. The Internet is the ultimate manifestation of the Enlightenment ideal of a marketplace of ideas. In an era of newsroom cutbacks, it provides a ever-needed check on abuses of government and corporate power. Not to mention a place for people of all tastes, backgrounds and affinities to celebrate their culture. If the Bush administration is going to do the bidding of corporate America, defenders of the public interest must urge Congress to defend this larger coalition of public and private voices.

We would not have the diversity of voices and services available on the Web today were the Internet not developed under a policy of net neutrality. Which makes the words of one Justice Department official in endorsing net neutrality’s end so ironic.

“Consumers and the economy are benefitting from the innovative and dynamic nature of the Internet,” said Thomas O. Barnett, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department’s Antitrust Division. “Regulators should be careful not to impose regulations that could limit consumer choice and investment in broadband facilities.”

Precisely. Which is why the U.S. Federal government should leave the Internet the way it is, and not permit telecoms to decide which websites they will serve to us on their backbone networks.

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at


  1. Getting rid of net neutrality is one of the only real ways I see ‘them’ being able to stop the grassroots journalism movement.

  2. I respectfully disagree. Completely. Through the entire history of news, whenever governments have been able to get any degree of control over the means of communication, free speech has suffered mightily. When the printing press was invented, governments immediately instituted licensing, prior restraint, and censorship to suppress criticism. When broadcasting was invented, governments immediately either took full ownership of it or required proof of

  3. Bandwidth cost is zero for millions of bloggers. Who pays?

    Those who derive economic benefit from the bloggers’ outpourings. They, not legislation or government, would best sustain the “explosion in people-powered media”.

    More at

  4. If this were to happen in the UK I would hope that the free market would dictate that unrestricted browsing would be a differentiating factor in allowing customers to choose which ISP to use.
    Why wouldn’t this happen in the USA?

    I have a choice of dozens of ISPs in north Surrey, not just 3 or 4, and I’m pretty sure there would always be a few that offered net neutrality as a distinguising factor/USP if this sort of thing took off here.