By Martin Bosworth
Those of you that read my personal blog or have followed my work at ConsumerAffairs.Com know that the concept of net neutrality is a hugely important issue to me. The concept of the Internet is built on the democratization of access–that everyone can speak their minds, share ideas, and interact on many levels. It’s as American a concept as baseball and apple pie, and the idea that telecoms such as AT&T and Verizon want to turn the Internet into gated communities like AOL, where all you do is passively consume the content they give you is, frankly, bullshit.
That’s why it did my heart proud to see John Edwards openly address the FCC on this issue not once, but twice–first on the issue of using wireless spectrum to build a national broadband network, and then directly on the NN issue itself. Edwards gets what many others in this debate do not–that net neutrality and broadband access are not just issues of free speech, but of economic growth and development:
Equal access to the Internet is also important for growing our economy. Small businesses and entrepreneurs cannot hope to outbid big companies for preferred status on the Web. It is worth asking whether new businesses like Amazon and eBay could have emerged into fast-growing powerhouses if they had been shunted to the slow lane of the information superhighway.
When barely 50 percent of American citizens have access to broadband, that’s millions of Americans who won’t be able to effectively create and disseminate ideas and new business over the Web, because they’re stuck slogging through a dial-up connection. Why, you ask, don’t big telecoms just build out to rural communities?
Simple–there’s not enough upfront money in it. The spawn of Ma Bell would rather focus on building out to rich communities that can afford to pay the high prices for their services, thus more quickly recouping the costs of development and pleasing the shareholders. And meanwhile, the rest of the country gets left further and further behind, because the incumbent monopoly doesn’t want any real competition for its services.
Edwards gets this, and I’m delighted to see him take this kind of stand. I don’t know if this is a result of him listening to other advisers or telling Mudcat to know his role, but I’m glad he’s done it, in any event. I’ll be watching the other candidates and paying close attention to how they address this issue–or don’t address it.