Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Playing Catch-Up: Net Neutrality

by Kyle Michaelis
I've been disappointing myself of late with my inability to keep on top of the Nebraska political scene. There are just a lot of issues that I've been unable to give the attention they deserve. In general, I hate taking the "kitchen sink"-approach and don't like posting about things unless I've put the research, time, and thought into an issue to make my comments worth your while. But, damn it, too much has been slipping under the RADAR trying to hold myself to such a standard. So, in the interests of just putting some ideas out there, please forgive my chipping in my two cents on a couple of issues that no doubt deserve at least a nickel.

For starters, there's the entire Net Neutrality debate, in which Sen. Ben Nelson continues to play a vital role from his position on the Senate's Commerce Committee. This has been a big issue for online activists, as they seek safeguards to prevent corporations from managing (for profit) the flow of information across the Internet. Last week - when the issue came to a head - Nelson voted with the other Democrats on the Committee and Maine Republican Olympia Snowe to maintain the open and indiscriminate Internet that users have come to know, but the effort fell one vote short and Nelson then voted to send the larger bill without such protections to the full Senate for consideration.

Basically, I've avoided this debate because it really is a lot more complicated than either side would have you believe. In fact, were it not for a handful of Republican Senators who are forcing this issue by attempting to open pathways in current regulation to all sorts of corporate abuse, while the telecommunications industry unleashed a full-scale lobbying campaign that found its way onto Nebraska television and all over the Omaha World-Herald's website, I would say the federal government should keep out of this one for the time being. But, when the federal government is already involved and played such an instrumental role in the Internet's development, it would be irresponsible to forsake the public interest by allowing corporations a free hand to do as they please.

Though I can't really blame the business-friendly Nelson for letting this bill go to the full Senate, I hope he will pay more heed to those gut-level worries that guided his original vote to maintain Net Neutrality by law. In the future, he should not be too quick to give this or similar legislation a pass without ensuring that it protects consumers and prevents unjustified manipulation threatening to pervert the freedom that has made the Internet so successful and revolutionary a resource.

The competition of ideas is every bit as important to our democracy as the competition of the marketplace, and the government has a duty to see that one not be sacrificed for the other.


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