New Initiative To Push Internet For Everyone
Some pretty big names will be in one place tomorrow to unveil a new initiative called InternetforEveryone.org, which aims to make access to a fast, open and affordable Internet a basic right for all Americans.
FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, flanked by recognizable heavy hitters like Vint Cerf, Google’s chief technology evangelist and so-called "father of the Internet," and Columbia Law’s Tim Wu, who coined the term "network neutrality," will announce the initiative at a press conference at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York.
Other names on the short list have similar clout: Michael Winship, president of Writers Guild of America-East; Stanford’s Larry Lessig; Josh Silver, executive president of Free Press; Union Square Venture’s Brad Burnham; Robin Chase, CEO of Meadow Netowrks and cofounder of Zipcar; and Van Jones, president of Green For All.
The website for the cause will go live tomorrow, and the group will begin pressing the idea that broadband Internet access is becoming a crucial public necessity given its social, economic and educational potential. That potential is limited, they’ll argue, because of lack of competition in the ISP space, which seems to be widening the digital divide. The event will kick off a major effort to rally support and funds for ensuring universal access.
Increasingly, the Internet and regulatory entities are crossing paths, and for the most part ISPs have been given the right of way in lieu of regulation due to successful free-market arguments. But it is becoming clear that Internet access is more of a utility like water or energy in the 21st Century, a utility with costs that need to be kept at a minimum in order for competition, innovation, and opportunity to thrive.
Nearly half of Americans favor some form of Internet regulation, and Internet usage is closely linked to income and broadband penetration. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, thanks to future political ambitions, is proposing a nationwide content-regulated wireless network offering 768 kbps, which is sure to generate controversy on both the ISP side and the freedom of speech side of the debate.
It is unclear at this stage if this is type of universal access InternetforEveryone will be pursuing.
The issue will be brought to light at a time when ISPs like Time Warner toy with metered Internet access. As Curt Brandao notes, pricing models like this one could be devastating to online video upstarts (which may be all the more reason Time Warner would want to do it):
"For example, while Netflix’s actual DVDs-by-mail come and go postage-paid, if you choose to use its new movie-download service, you could accrue an added "freight fee" from your ISP (for the heavy lifting involved in transporting the titles through the Web’s series of tubes).
"Content providers from Hulu.com to iTunes might find this will wipe out their user base, as it’s no fun keeping one eye on your favorite online activity and the other on a meter."
Universal access, in theory, could prevent these type of catastrophes for market innovators.