NEW YORK — In a video taped for MoveOn.org, Moby sits on a Washington, D.C., park bench, bemoaning his failure to get people to stop and talk to him.
“Why won’t they listen? No one cares,” he says. “No one understands. No one wants to listen.”
What Moby’s upset about is a hotly debated issue that has Web service companies like Google, eBay and Yahoo! clashing with telephone and cable companies like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast. A bid to add Net neutrality language to a telecommunication bill was shot down by the House of Representatives two weeks ago, and on Thursday (June 22), the Senate began debating the issue in its own reform bill.
Still, Moby’s afraid the average Internet user isn’t aware of what’s going on. Before tackling passers-by to make them listen, Moby says in the clip, “Don’t people know their ability to download information from the Internet will be severely compromised if Net neutrality is overturned?”
OK, then — so what is Net neutrality?
“Right now, what’s great about the Internet is that all information is equal,” Moby told MTV News. “Whether it’s coming from AT&T and the White House or some kid in his basement in Brooklyn, all information is delivered at the same speed.”
That’s because telecommunication companies can’t charge Web site providers to have their content sent any faster than others’. While content providers now pay Web-hosting companies to put their content on the Internet, they would also have to pay Internet service providers. If service providers could charge for better access to broadband, the Internet would become more like an information superhighway than ever before, with a slow lane and a fast lane — the fastest speeds reserved for those who pay the most.
Large broadband providers welcome this tollbooth on their superhighway, saying they deserve compensation for extra usage and that the extra funds would allow them to improve cable and DSL and build next-generation networks. Furthermore, providers contend government regulation would harm consumers and stifle innovation.
“If Washington followed Hollywood’s lead and gave an Academy Award for the best political sound bite of the year, ’Net neutrality’ would win in a walk for 2006,” Steve Forbes wrote in the Wall Street Journal, calling it a “good sound bite, bad policy.”
But bad policy for whom? Content providers liken the proposed rate increases to protection money. They say they’d have to pay extra to keep going, while smaller companies and start-ups would essentially be driving on a dirt road — which they also say would harm consumers and stifle innovation. The fear is that the telecommunication companies could favor their own services and penalize competitors.
“The big telecoms, they’ll be able to throw switches that determine how fast content is delivered to you,” Moby said. “The content they’re providing is going to be real fast, and the content on MySpace, YouTube and [other sites] will be really slow, unless they pay the big providers to make it faster. Someone’s band starts a Web site, and if they don’t pay AT&T an onerous charge, their content will be incredibly slow. So eventually, people will just stop looking at independently produced content and small Web sites.”
More than that, proponents of Net neutrality are worried about the exchange of ideas, not currency. The Internet, as viewed by many content providers and bloggers like Moby, is a place to debate and share — not to be a highway, but a town square.
That’s part of the “egalitarian nature of the Internet,” Moby said: We can all connect and participate in the same discussion at the same time. If some people’s ideas can’t get through as easily, if content is filtered, “That affects us all,” Moby said.