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Toward a Two-Tiered Internet

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  • James
    The Internet is one of history s most democratic forms of communication. In 1999, John Chambers, President and CEO of networking giant Cisco, called the
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 2, 2006
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      The Internet is one of history's most democratic forms of
      communication. In 1999, John Chambers, President and CEO of networking
      giant Cisco, called the Internet the great "equalizer between people,
      companies, and countries." But recent efforts by AOL and Yahoo to
      create a tiered Internet would tilt the system's level playing field
      in favor of large wealthy companies. The two e-mail providers have
      partnered with Goodmail Systems to "charge companies about 1/4 cent to
      send a message that will bypass spam filters." E-mails from paying
      companies will go straight to a user's inbox, but e-mails from
      non-paying companies will go through the "gauntlet of spam filters
      that could divert them to a junk-mail folder or strip them of images
      and Web links," even if they're not spam. AOL and Yahoo argue that
      this measure -- set to go into effect for AOL in 30 days -- will help
      reduce spam for users. But the reality is that this virtual express
      toll lane will increase profits for the providers, while stifling
      innovation and leaving behind small businesses and nonprofits that are
      unable to afford the extra cost. "This would literally be the end of
      the Internet," says Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, who "fears
      that the next Google won't ever get the chance to establish itself --
      because it would be stuck in the slow lane." Take action now and let
      AOL know that you want the Internet to stay open.

      NEW FEE WILL NOT REDUCE SPAM: AOL and Yahoo argue that this new
      "postage" measure will restore order to a spam-plagued system. Senders
      paying the certified fee "must promise to contact only people who have
      agreed to receive their messages, or risk being blocked entirely." But
      as Timothy Karr of Free Press points out, Goodmail's scheme will not
      eliminate spam, but actually increase it: "AOL subscribers will
      receive certified email in addition to the regular traffic that
      clutters most inboxes." Additionally, AOL admits that spam isn't as
      troublesome as it once was. AOL users' spam complaints are down 75
      percent from 2003, yet its sophisticated spam filters capture about 20
      percent of legitimate mail. Gizmodo reports that "new systems for
      spam-resistant email have been in the cards for years," but no one can
      come to any agreement. In the meantime, e-mail providers shouldn't
      close the free Internet as a quick solution, because as prominent
      anti-spammer Richard Cox of Spamhaus notes, "[A]n e-mail charge will
      destroy the spirit of the Internet."

      A SYSTEM OF HAVES AND HAVE NOTS: Goodmail, AOL, and Yahoo will all
      fare well economically from this deal. Goodmail will charge 1/4 cent
      to 1 cent per e-mail, "with high-volume mailers getting the biggest
      discounts" and nonprofits also receiving discounts. Goodmail will pass
      on more than half of that amount to the e-mail provider. But not only
      will companies be hit hard for each e-mail they send, "the Goodmail
      technology will also be costly for senders to setup and use."
      MoveOn.org says that if an e-mail fee existed years ago, the advocacy
      group "would never would have gotten off the ground." Matt Blumberg,
      the chief executive of Return Path, a competitor of Goodmail, notes
      that Goodmail's price is unnecessarily expensive: "[I]t's bad for the
      industry and bad for consumers. A lot of e-mailers won't be able to
      afford it." Small businesses, unlikely to receive any type of
      discount, will be hit the hardest. "The Internet is the great
      equalizer for small businesses because they can partake in enterprise
      marketing activities on a smaller scale. Imposing a per-message fee
      will create a competitive advantage to companies that can afford to
      pay the fee."

      FIGHTING FOR NET NEUTRALITY: A coalition of 50 groups with about 15
      million members has formed against the Goodmail scheme, calling it the
      "first step down a slippery slope that will harm the Internet itself."
      The group -- including strange bedfellows such as the Gun Owners of
      America, RightMarch.com, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for
      American Progress Action Fund -- represents four million of AOL's 19.5
      million customers. The Gun Owners have threatened that its members
      will leave AOL if the new fee materializes. A recent poll conducted by
      the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, and Free Press
      found that "70 percent [of responders] were concerned about providers
      blocking or impairing their access to Internet services or sites" and
      54 percent wanted Congress to write legislation preserving net
      neutrality. Large technology companies, such as Google, are also
      fighting against a tiered Internet. "New innovation in the marketplace
      increases our business," says Google's Vint Cerf, one of the
      Internet's creators. If start-ups can't go fast, he says, the Internet
      will be a "zero-sum game."

      ANOTHER TOLL LANE: Broadband providers, such as AT&T, BellSouth, and
      Verizon, are also looking for ways to make money by destroying net
      neutrality. Internet sites willing to pay high fees would be given
      preferential treatment on web, resulting in faster load times for
      users. "High-bandwidth sites that refused to pay, however, could see
      their traffic slowed to a crawl, or even blocked in some cases."
      Telecom firms argue that they have the right to be compensated for
      building networks. John Thorne, Verizon's senior vice president and
      deputy general counsel, told a conference that Google shouldn't be
      enjoying "a free lunch." But Ben Scott at Free Press argues that if
      the broadband providers get their way, "The next great idea, the next
      Google or eBay or Napster or whatever, won't have the capital to get
      themselves in the fast lanes right away. ... The reason the big
      e-companies were so successful were that they started on the same
      level playing field as everyone else."
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