“Tech stuff” tends to get dismissed in the political sphere, but I think phenomena like open-source software and Internet-based communications offer one of the last little hopes in a nation gone wacko. They are working examples of democratic access and cooperative effort. I believe these technologies and the new social patterns they nurture will be models for new ways of working and communicating for the common good.

The openness and uncontrollability of the Internet has been sticking in the throats of the oligarchy for a long time. Now special interests including Verizon, ATT, Comcast, and other carriers are attempting to slam the door on an open net — the first gambit in privatizing one of the last open commons we still have. They want to create a multi-tier system where sites can pay the carriers extra to get first-class rides on an increasingly clogged internet. That means independent, political, artistic, and nonprofit sites would become 3rd-class passengers on a Net dominated by big money —  sound familiar?

Fortunately, there is political resistance:

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, will introduce new legislation today that would prohibit Internet network operators from charging companies for faster delivery of their content to consumers or favoring some content providers over others.

The bill is meant to ease growing fears that open Internet access may be blocked or compromised by the Bell phone carriers and cable operators, which may create tiers of service for delivering content to consumers, much the way the post office charges more for overnight mail delivery than for regular delivery.

Consumer groups and Internet companies like Google and Amazon contend that any move by the network operators to levy fees for premium delivery service would harm Web sites that are unwilling to pay for faster delivery.

The Wyden legislation, called the Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006, aims to prohibit network operators from assessing charges that give some content providers better access than others or blocking its subscribers from accessing content.

“You best compete by letting every company play on a level field, but these proposals would tilt the field,” Senator Wyden said of the plans discussed by some network operators. “The Net has been about access and equal treatment and giving everyone a fair shake, and people who own these fat pipes, these cable and telecommunications people who say that they can’t keep doing this, want to undermine that.”

He added that his bill would prevent network operators from giving preferential treatment to affiliated companies. Time Warner Cable, he said, should not be able to give other Time Warner companies better access to the network than their rivals.

The bill more squarely confronts the concerns of consumer groups than a broader bill proposed last summer by Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, which would prevent Internet service providers from blocking access, but would largely leave network operators to manage their own networks, including potentially charging content providers for a premium service.

That bill has won support from 16 Republican senators.

If we want to hang onto the last commons that’s left in this country, we have a champion in Wyden. It may seem like a small issue, but could shape our future far more deeply than the hotbutton issues we get so exercised about. We can get choice back, we can rebuild our civil liberties, we can regain our standing in the world if we fight hard enough. If we lose the open Internet, it’s hard to imagine how we could get it back. Please fight for Wyden’s Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006 with everything you’ve got, and nip the assault on the open Net in the bud. Tell your representatives that nothing less than the Wyden bill, including the Ensign bill, will do. No less than our freedom, and our means to hold on to it, is at stake.

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