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Geneseo Republic - Geneseo, IL
  • Amy Gehrt: Is Internet censorship coming to America?

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  • The idea of Internet censorship often brings to mind countries such as China or Cuba. However, a key Federal Communications Commission ruling could allow telecom companies to essentially censor what their customers can see ... effectively ending the free and open Internet system on which we rely.
    “New technologies now allow telecom companies to scrutinize every piece of information we send or receive online — websites, email, videos, Internet phone calls, or data generated by games or social networks,” the American Civil Liberties Union explains on its website. “And they can program the computers that route that information to interfere with the data flow by slowing down or blocking traffic and communicators that they don’t like (and speeding up traffic they do like or that pays them extra for the privilege).”
    Why would the FCC even contemplate allowing such a thing? In January, a Washington appeals court handed a big victory to Verizon, which had sued over FCC rules requiring providers to handle all Internet traffic equally.
    In its attempts to justify why it should be allowed to create a so-called fast lane for content providers who pay a premium, Verizon tried to hide behind the shield of the First Amendment, claiming the right to free speech gave it the right to “edit” the Internet as it saw fit.
    In its 2012 court filing, Verizon also sought to compare itself to a newspaper editor, claiming “broadband providers possess ‘editorial discretion.’”
    Acting as an Internet gatekeeper is not at all comparable to being a newspaper editor — something Verizon officials would actually know if they had gone to journalism school. Yes, editors do get to make decisions about what goes into their papers. However, we’re also professionally trained for that task, and the importance of behaving ethically and putting aside individual beliefs is drilled into us from our very first journalism class.
    We also aren’t paid to prioritize one story over another; in fact, as an editor involved in putting out a newspaper five nights a week, I can honestly say we routinely run stories with which we individually disagree — because we know that journalism isn’t about promoting one’s own views ... it’s about providing the day’s top stories to readers without bias, and letting them form their own opinions.
    Journalists believe in free speech, not censorship. Creating a two-tier system that permits paid prioritization of content, or any other type of Internet censoring, is just plain wrong.
    President Barack Obama, who stressed the need for net neutrality during his 2008 campaign but hasn’t had much to say since the proposed new FCC rules were announced, finally addressed the topic anew Wednesday during the U.S. Africa Business Forum in Washington.
    “One of the issues around net neutrality is whether you are creating different rates or charges for different content providers. That’s the big controversy here,” he said. “So you have big, wealthy media companies who might be willing to pay more and also charge more for spectrum, more bandwidth on the Internet so they can stream movies faster. I personally, the position of my administration, as well as a lot of the companies here, is that you don’t want to start getting a differentiation in how accessible the Internet is to different users. You want to leave it open so the next Google and the next Facebook can succeed.”
    Page 2 of 2 - In fact, other than those on cable and telecom companies’ payrolls, one would be hard-pressed to find many advocates speaking out in favor of ending net neutrality. Three dozen major web companies — including Amazon, Google and Netflix — have even banded together to fight the proposed new rules with one voice.
    Still, in Washington, money talks. And, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ website, Comcast spent $18,810,000 on lobbying last year — the second-highest sum of any company.
    Even more concerning, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was a top lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry prior to his appointment. So his insistence that the FCC won’t allow abuse of the proposed new rules seems somewhat difficult to swallow.
    As of Tuesday, 1.1 million comments had been submitted to the FCC regarding net neutrality. There’s still time to add your voice to the chorus, though, since the second comment period doesn’t end until Sept. 10. A decision is expected by the end of the year.
    Fast lanes may be great for highways, but they have no business on the information superhighway. So perhaps if telecom providers want to focus on faster speed, they should turn their attention to speeding things up for customers. After all, as John Oliver pointed out in his HBO show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” back in June, “We pay more for our Internet service than anybody else on Earth, and yet the download speeds we get lag behind Estonia.”
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    Amy Gehrt is the city editor of the Pekin (Illinois) Daily Times. She may be reached at agehrt@pekintimes.com, or on Twitter @AmyGehrt. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Pekin Daily Times or this publication.

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