Gun owners, librarians unite against Bells
A diverse and perhaps unlikely group of political activists and associations assembled today to voice opposition to a U.S. House bill that it says would impede InterNet innovation by undermining network neutrality.
The "SavetheInterNet.com Coalition" includes InterNet pioneer and Google executive Vint Cerf, Gun Owners of America, political action group Moveon.org, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Consumer Federation of America, American Library Association and others.
The group pointed to its own diversity--uniting such disparate interests as Gun Owners of America and Afro-Netizen.com, an online African American community group--as evidence of the righteousness of its cause as well as the range of stakeholders in Net neutrality.
"Whenever you see people on the far left and the far right getting together [to oppose the same bill]," said Craig Fields, director of InterNet operations for conservative gun advocacy group Gun Owners of America, it's a good indication that, "what Congress is getting ready to do is un-American."
"If the major telecoms think they can taint or characterize opposition to what is a power grab on their part as liberal or an anti-free market approach, they're mistaken," he said.
To Fields, the Net neutrality issue is a rare case in which government regulation is required to ensure a "free marketplace of ideas."
GOOA frequently uses e-mail and the InterNet to quickly and inexpensively inform its members of current issues, and Fields doesn't like the idea of the InterNet being controlled by, as he described it, "a handful of major telecom companies, all of which have internal anti-gun policies."
In recent months, telecom carriers and cable companies, while defending the right to charge content providers for the use of broadband Networks, have said they have no intention of blocking access to any InterNet content.
The group's members stressed that they don't oppose telecom and cable companies establishing classes of service for Network quality and charging accordingly. What they oppose is failing to assure equal, nondiscriminatory access to those classes of service. Without that assurance, said Gigi Sohn, president of political action group Public Knowledge (another member of the Save the InterNet.com Coalition), telcos and cable companies will favor content providers in whom the carriers have a financial interest and degrade the Network service quality to other providers.
"Think of the cable system," Sohn said. "You as a consumer have no control over what channels the cable operator picks. They pick certain channels based on where they have a financial interest. Time Warner favors the programming in which it has financial interest. We're concerned that the cable model will essentially be grafted onto the InterNet."
SavetheInterNet.com is launching a campaign to contact members of Congress this week to urge them to include nondiscriminatory assurances in InterNet legislation, with strong penalties for carriers that don't comply. Current drafts of legislation working its way through Congress contain a complaint process, which the group said would only bog complainants down in red tape while carriers degrade the service on which their businesses depend.
"You're out of business while the telecom carriers drag their feet," said Mark Cooper, research director for the Consumer Federation of America. "Look at what happened to competitive carriers in the 10 years following the  Telecom Act."
The 50-member coalition is also planning a rally on Capitol Hill this week.
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