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United-States20 June 2006

Internet ’neutrality’ vital for free expression

Reporters Without Borders said today it is backing the principle of Internet ‘neutrality’ as the US Senate Commerce Committee is due to meet on Thursday to discuss renewal of the 1996 telecommunications law.

“The way to defend freedom of expression is to defend this principle,” the international press freedom organisation said.

Senators Olympia Snowe (Republican) and Byron Dorgan (Democrat) have presented a draft law (Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2006) to force telecoms operators to respect the principle of neutrality, at a time when US operators show signs of seeking to break the principle so as to offer faster services, such as video on demand.

"Rejecting the principle of neutrality would have direct consequences for bloggers and Internet-users worldwide,” the organisation said.

“If telecommunications operators are allowed to offer different services according to the price paid by content providers it is likely that small online publications, particularly blogs, will be relegated to a second class Internet, with an output greatly inferior to that of commercial concerns.”

“There would be a risk that websites without financial means would disappear to the benefit of big content providers. The neutrality principle has made the Internet an open, creative and free media. It is already being put under threat by the world’s authoritarian states, led by China. It would be disastrous if the United States was to give it up as well,” it concluded.

Under the neutrality principle operators (such as Verizon, France Telecom) are not allowed to make any distinction between people and organisations which provide a Net service. For example, Internet service providers would not be allowed to sign contracts with blogs or websites to provide them with a better service than it provides to others.

The US telecoms operators wanting to provide video on demand for example would require a significant bandwidth. At present a blog uses the same network as the CNN website, so a step in that direction would mean creating two Internets: one high speed, for commercial concerns; the other slower for all those without the means to pay for the operators’ services.

In this scenario, Internet-users could reject blogs or other “minor sources” of information in favour of looking up pages which are faster to access.

Many countries already violate the principle of Internet neutrality by blocking access to online publications which displease them. The Net should serve to transmit information, without reference to its origin or destination. Only the users should be able to decide which content they want to access.

Therefore, abandoning the neutrality principle in the United States would increase the risk of spreading the Chinese model - a more centralised network in which access providers would have improper and decisive power over content transmission.


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