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Web's Future Neutrality Falls Into ISP Hands

  • LA Times, Tuesday, January 31, 2006 10:45 AM
That we have unfettered Internet access is thanks in no small part to our Internet service provider, the company that enables us to get on the information super highway. Most of us know this, and most of us trust our ISP to grant access to anything and everything that's out there. However, for those who access the Web via a digital subscriber line or broadband cable, using the networks of Verizon Communications or Comcast, such unfettered access could change in a few years, according to the Los Angeles Times. When Verizon merged with MCI and SBC Communications merged with AT&T, the Federal Communications Commission mandated that both companies comply with a principle known as "network neutrality," which basically guarantees unadulterated Internet access, for two years. After two years, these companies may tweak their networks in whatever way they choose. Without network neutrality, operators can dictate which Internet services consumers can access, blocking, say, a Web site providing broadband TV content, if your local ISP decides it wants you to use its broadband TV service. Or it could slow down the speed of downloads on iTunes to the point where you just can't stand it anymore and switch over to your ISP's music service or that of its partner. This would make the Web much more profitable for your ISP and less useful to you. As long as there are a healthy number of competitors out there, this is unlikely to happen. However, as the article points out, Comcast and Time Warner, the two largest cable companies, already control more than 60 percent of the broadband cable market--a number that is growing. Meanwhile, Verizon and AT&T controlled 60 percent of their Internet market (providing DSLs) before their major mergers were announced. If each market continues to consolidate this rapidly, consumers may soon be out of luck.

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