Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why We Need Net Neutrality

Funny how one thing leads to another.

Bill and I (thanks to Netflix) are belated fans of "A Bit of Fry and Laurie"--Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie's comedy series that ran in Britain in the 1990s. We just finished watching the third season, in which each episode ends with Fry concocting some sort of bizzarro cocktail while Laurie plays the piano. At the end of the piece, Fry hands Laurie the cocktail and they toast each other with the words "Soupy twist!" This may be Strom for "Cheers!"( Strom is a nonsensical language used by Fry in the series). But Bill's first guess was that it had something to do with Soupy Sales.

Which led him to meander the Web on his Nokia 810 till he came upon a reunion show by some of the TV comedians of the 50's. They chatted about what it was like to perform on TV during the medium's first few years. Few rules, everything live, massive amounts of time to fill (Wonderama, for instance, was on six hours a day) and you were successful depending on how many people bothered to tune you in.

Doesn't this remind you of something...? Like...the Internet today? Compare that description with this recent New York Times story on the life (and sometimes death) of a high-profile tech blogger.

My point is: Look at television. That which was once wild and free is tightly controlled, regulated and highly commercial today, and only a carefully chosen, vetted and made-up few are now seen on this medium. The Internet can head in that direction too, or in the direction of open, free, community-driven.

Net neutrality can seem like not that big a deal, even to those of us who live most of our lives on the Internet. But it's a first step. Let Comcast, Time Warner and Cox and their brethren take that first step to controlling what is carried on their networks and you've set them up to become the NBC, ABC and CBS of the future Internet.

A law that decrees all ISPs must broadcast everything equally would be a big step toward making sure that future doesn't happen.


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