As the Federal Communications Commission meets today to develop some "rules of the road" for the Internet, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Sarah Palin) has thrown up a roadblock.
The bitter, defeated presidential nominee today introduced legislation that would block the FCC from creating new "net neutrality" rules.
Net neutrality refers to consumer protections that would prevent companies that operate the broadband network, such as AT&T and Comcast, from slowing or selectively blocking content on the World Wide Web.
The new rules under FCC consideration would forbid service providers from blocking access to lawful traffic or their competitors' sites and require transparency for their own management policies.
Opponents are concerned that the new regulations could hinder the development of the Internet. McCain claims in a written statement that net neutrality rules would create "onerous federal regulation."
But supporters contend that without stronger rules, the Internet could fall prey to the very companies that deliver online services. Groups such as SaveTheInternet.com see equal access to the Internet as critical to a healthy democracy.
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"It's an infrastructure that we've got to guarantee certain protections to, so that it's not an infrastructure that's only provided to people who can pay their rate, but an infrastructure that's important to get out to everyone," says Tim Karr, the group's campaign director.
According to Karr, the U.S. has already fallen behind other developed countries, with nearly 40 percent of Americans lacking a high-speed Internet connection. "Most of those people are lower-income, in rural areas; communities of color are also disproportionately offline," Karr contends. "So, we have a challenge, not only to make sure that the Internet is open and free, but also to get more people connected."
Besides increasing Internet access, net neutrality is about preventing potentially restrictive management policies, according to Amalia Deloney, coordinator of the grassroots network of media justice advocates known as MAG-Net.
"We know that we can't get to that place of having universal broadband that's affordable, accessible, all of those things, without really being able to deal with net neutrality," she says. "And so, we see net neutrality as a necessary step."