Should the Internet Be Run by One U.S. Company?

You open your laptop. All the websites you like to browse are either blocked or incredibly slow. “Sorry, glands your subscription only allows for slow access to our premium content providers, apoplectic ” a pop-up tells you.

Frustrated, stomatology you head over to one of the few sites approved by your Internet service provider, the only way for you to get the local news and weather. There, in the fast lane, the Internet starts working like a charm.

The United States of America has not yet gotten to this point yet, but decisions over the last few months have certainly been heading in that direction.

Tomorrow the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is likely to rubber stamp the controversial acquisition of NBC Universal, owners of a major TV Network, several cable channels and a movie studio, by Comcast, the nation’s largest provider of cable TV and residential broadband Internet service. The “megadeal” merger will create a media content and distribution behemoth easily capable of discriminating against rival content providers or distributors.

Dozens of national activist and net neutrality groups have been trying to stop the merger, or at least impose strict regulations on the new company’s future behavior.

A petition by the Consumers Union of United States, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, calls on the FCC to block the merger.

The combination of NBC’s content with Comcast’s distribution power would create a media giant of unmatched size and scope which, if approved, will have unprecedented control over what Americans watch,” says the group, which is campaigning hard ahead of tomorrow’s FCC meeting. “Take action and tell the FCC that the proposed marriage of these two media behemoths will result in less competition, higher costs, and fewer content choices.”

The group has ads all over Washington, DC featuring a boa constrictor resembling a TV cable constricting online and television access.

Even a number of senior legislators have been coming out against the merger. Senator Al Franken’s came out strongly against the merger in an article on earlier this year: “Combining a company who provides programming and one who provides the pipes that carry said programming would almost certainly be a raw deal for consumers and independent content producers alike,” he wrote.

Then last week Senator John Kerry wrote a letter to the FCC urging them to ensure the post-merger company won’t be able to discriminate against rival content providers.

The FCC meeting also comes a couple weeks after Julius Genachowski, the man Obama appointed chairman of the FCC announced new ‘regulations’ for US providers of Internet, cable and phone services, which don’t meet any acceptable standard of net neutrality, allowing cable and phone providers to choose which websites you can easily and quickly access based on how much the owners of those sites are willing to pay. The regulations do not even apply to wireless Internet services and allow for “specialized services”, a loophole which already allows cable and phone providers to create fast and slow lanes for the Internet.

The Save the Internet Coalition, an initiative of the media reform group Free Press, is working to stop the weak rules from passing in an FCC vote tomorrow.

Folks, this is an issue over which President Obama has explicitly gone back on his word.

“I am a strong supporter of net neutrality,” he said. “What you’ve been seeing is some lobbying that says [Internet providers] should be able to be gatekeepers and able to charge different rates to different websites… I think destroys one of the best things about the Internet…  As president I’m going to make sure that is the principle that my FCC commissioners are applying as we move forward.”

Why has the Obama administration not been called to task for such an obvious reversal? Lack of public pressure.

Groups like the Consumers Union of United States the Save the Internet Coalition are working overtime to change that. Please sign both the petition below and the Save the Internet Coalition’s petition, and if you can check out these ideas for getting more involved, including how to lobby your elected officials on net neutrality.

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