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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinOctober 13, 2006 Issue 

Keep net neutral

Congress needs to pass telecommunications bill that safeguards net neutrality on Web

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

When Congress reconvenes in a "lame duck" session after the November elections, our elected leaders need to pass a telecommunications bill that guarantees "net neutrality" and equal access for all users to any website.

Without that safeguard, individuals seeking Internet content and those providing such information could end up paying Internet service providers huge fees. That's the warning of several free speech advocates and religious groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Net neutrality - short for network neutrality - requires cable and telephone companies to operate their Internet networks in a nondiscriminatory way and stops them from prioritizing Internet traffic to benefit their own content.

Current telecommunications bills pending in Congress have no safeguards for "net neutrality."

Religious groups, including the U.S. Bishops, fear that without net neutrality, Internet service providers will charge them to maintain current levels of speed and service for their online sites.

One reason the religious groups are concerned is history. In the nearly 20 years since broadcast deregulation, the amount of religious content on radio and television has dropped dramatically as broadcasters switched from free "public service" programs to money-making programs, including infomercials.

Among the religious programming that has suffered nationally are TV Masses. Fortunately, in Green Bay, WBAY, Channel 2, has for more than 30 years, carried a free weekly TV Mass broadcast at 5:30 a.m. Sundays, and WLUK, Channel 11, still broadcasts the bishop's Christmas Eve Mass live from St. Francis Xavier Cathedral.

Religious groups fear something similar to what happened in the broadcast media could happen on the Internet without the guarantee of net neutrality. While large companies may be able to pay a premium for special service, religious and other noncommercial websites say it would impose a burden on them.

One net neutrality opponent is Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska - of the $231 million "bridge to nowhere" fame. Sen. Stevens chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over telecommunications bills. Net neutrality, he told National Journal's Technology Daily, is "something that a few big companies want."

But Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, disagrees with Sen. Stevens. Berners-Lee told The New York Times in a telephone interview that net neutrality is both a fundamental Internet principle and essential for democracy.

Congress should heed the advice of the U.S. Bishops, the Christian Coalition of America, the Interfaith Center for Social Justice, numerous small businesses and nonprofit organizations, by voting to preserve net neutrality.

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