The Battle Continues For Control Of The Internet

ELEANOR: We heard earlier how our personal privacy has been threatened online by the Heartbleed breach.

FELICE: But the European Parliament has just voted to protect the internet in a different way – to protect its freedoms.

ELEANOR: I found that in this country there are no such protections – but there is a fiery debate on openness online.

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STANFORD: Here in the United States we take for granted free and open access to the Internet and its many applications.

Skype…

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Email…

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Plus video on demand sites like Netflix,

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With its bingeworthy series like House of Cards. The company takes up a third of America’s bandwidth.

Last month, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced the company had agreed to pay Comcast for MORE bandwidth so Netflix customers can stream videos more quickly. Many people see this as a threat to what is known as “net neutrality” or equal access online. Or – what we have today.

This is what enables small, scrappy start-ups and blogs to be found online alongside giants like Facebook. And it raises the biggest questions of how innovation and entrepreneurship happen on the web.

The European Parliament voted last week to make it illegal for companies to make deals like Netflix did with Comcast, or any other internet carriers.

Tim Wu first coined the term “net neutrality.” He says the EU ruling sets a precedent.

WU: And I think that just reflects the common sentiment these days that it just seems crazy to let the carriers act as if they’re selling private airplanes or something when they’re selling something that everyone depends on 0:10

Earlier this year at a press conference, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Tom Wheeler was also emphatic.

WHEELER: The great revolution in the internet is how it empowers individuals to both consume and create. And to do so requires an accessible and open internet and we will fight to preserve that capability. APPLAUSE 0:20

But the FCC has TWICE tried to pass net neutrality protections and lost in the appeals court both times. This means service providers can not only charge for access, but also potentially start BLOCKING certain websites from users, if they want.

Some people say the unregulated market encourages competition which protects consumers.  Julian Sanchez, is a research fellow at the Cato Institute.

SANCHEZ: People say net neutrality to signal they are concerned about a set of problems arising from corporate power 0:08

But internet users are not just consumers. As the internet approaches its 30th year of operation, there is a critical choice ahead. This choice is clear for ThoughtWorks, an organization committed to maintaining open access through technology.

HATCH: So we’ll walk around and do the gallery last. SOUND OF FOOTSTEPS 0:06

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Jared Hatch showed me around their office, where an exhibition called Unbound celebrates the life of Aaron Swartz. Swartz has become a figurehead for the fight for open internet.

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That’s the sound of Ellen Pearlman’s video, condemning Swartz’s treatment by the FBI.

He committed suicide at 26 in January last year. At the time he was facing 35 years in prison for illegally downloading millions of documents from the online academic journal JStor. He did this to protest JStor’s annual subscription fees of up to $50,000.

Software developer Smari (SMAW-RI) McCarthy works at ThoughtWorks. He says Swartz’s death was a turning point.

MCCARTHY: When he died, a lot of people in the public woke up to the realization that this war for access to information is getting quite brutal 0:10

Without protections,

MCCARTHY: The dark side is that internet becomes another television. So it becomes a consumer-only medium where you don’t get to participate you just do what you’re told and you use the websites that exists 0:12

David Isenberg used to be a senior advisor to the FCC, and says we are on a slippery slope with net neutrality.

ISENBERG: Well, very gradually the open internet will close. We may not even notice it but we might wind up in 20 years talking with our children, about remember when the internet was wide open? 0:14

So advocates agree the public needs to talk about about net neutrality now, so conversations about the Internet’s future don’t happen without them. Eleanor Stanford, Columbia Radio News.

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