Is that being alarmist? Maybe. The story is in the Washington Post, and it’s chilling.
The big telcos, headed by Bell South and AT&T, are promoting the idea that they should be able to control the Internet traffic that flows through the channels they control, to deny access to services that compete with services they offer, and to charge big content providers, like Google and Yahoo, to give their traffic priority over traffic of small content providers, like this blog.
William L. Smith, chief technology officer for Atlanta-based BellSouth Corp., told reporters and analysts that an Internet service provider such as his firm should be able, for example, to charge Yahoo Inc. for the opportunity to have its search site load faster than that of Google Inc.
Or, Smith said, his company should be allowed to charge a rival voice-over-Internet firm so that its service can operate with the same quality as BellSouth’s offering.
It’s not hard to see that such a scheme would mean the end of the Internet as we know it, which is the Internet that many of us have come to consider indispensible. Lest we miss the point, Smith gives us another example a little later in the article:
Smith said the ability to prioritize traffic would benefit consumers, such as with online services providing medical alerts. And he said his company wants to be able to assure vendors such as online-gaming firms that their subscribers will get top performance even when there is heavy network traffic, which can slow a system. [Emphasis mine: RB]
This is not a theoretical discussion. There’s legislation in the Energy and Commerce Committee of the House right now that would give Smith what he wants—legislation, need we add, whose passage through Congress is being liberally greased by contributions from the telcos and cable companies.
There’s a pretty powerful coalition of interests opposing the legislation as it’s written, including Amazon, Google and Ebay, but it’s unlikely that they own as many legislators as the network providers, being so new to that game. And given the various other things happening on the national scene these days, something like this could gain a good deal of momentum before the public in general, or even most legislators, become aware of it.
It’s probably not too early to drop a note to your congressfolk to let them know that you are aware of what’s going down, and that you are mighty disturbed by this attempt to hijack the Internet, and that you will be watching their response to the legislation. It’s probably also a good idea to get to know Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy group that has been quick to speak out against the so-called “pay-for-performance” concept, and even to give them a contribution to help them with their good works.