June 17, 2006

Saving the peoples right to know: Fight Internet strangulation


A threat is now posed by the ”privatize everything” crowd to divvy up
parts of the Internet and begin charging for faster grades of service and breadth
of access. The freedom-to-access tool we have come to appreciate for the
rapid communications and byway to knowledge it gives us could be changed

Talk about a coming digital divide. No, make that a digital stomp. When half
of Indian country is still having a hard time getting on the Internet,
American megacorporations are once again trying to figure how to privatize the
keys to the greatest techno-tool of knowledge liberation ever invented by
humankind. For most Native families and organizations, this might not just to be
left behind in the information super-highway, as Mohawk artist Richard Hill once
coined: ”If we don’t watch it, Indians may just be the roadkill in the
information highway.”

Admittedly, many Indian people have been loath to join the computer
revolution, preferring to stay out of the all-encompassing virtual world. This is
understandable and even supportable, particularly when the isolation or
”downfending” strengthens cultural practices that are nearly always private and
nature-connected. There is great spiritual value in silence and in sustaining a
separate pace of existence – private from the world so intensely commandeered
by the white brother.

But for those who chose the path of engaging society with the many tools and
tribulations of the modern world, computers – and particularly the powers
and freedoms of the Internet – are a gift. For one thing, its availability and
circularity greatly help to level the playing field for the small peoples and
communities struggling to survive and prosper. A free and unencumbered
Internet is the major technological tool of access for small and relatively small
American Indian communities, geographically remote and mostly lacking in
adequate resources for a proper self-governance.

Internet networking, with its rapid, real-time messaging, its ability to
multi-communicate, its reach into the hearth in a technology that allows
families and all manner of clan and tribal networks to be in touch and even to
sustain common narrative can put Native peoples (and all manner of publics) on a
par with government agencies and even major corporations.

With the world increasingly wired, a consortium of companies has supported
the further privatization of services. AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Bell South
are among the cable and telephone communications giants lobbying to be allowed
to charge fees for most services online. The Internet is thus destined to
become a medium for corporate marketing. It would cease to be effective as a
means for quick global civic-related networks.

The political strategy of the phone and cable lobbyists is to change
communications policy laws. The communications giants want greater control over
broadband. They want to eliminate the concept of ”common carrier,” which
implies a covenant with the public that requires a non-discriminatory approach. But
the fact of government regulation of phone lines is what guarantees the
Internet as a democratic medium that truly helps to level the playing field.

privatizing the use of cable and phone lines these companies could operate
Internet services as mega private networks, giving preferential treatment to
their own ”applications” and near monopoly influence over the communications
services that provide all video, audio and data that comes into our computers,
televisions, phones and iPods. These companies are considering how to meter
individual subscriber usage by application, tracking individuals’ online
travels are tracked and billed.

All our cyberspace information, of private or public nature, will thus be
tracked for comprehensive analysis useful in developing directed marketing
strategies. Such controls will further facilitate tracking of the citizenry
already in progress via the National Security Agency. Among the ideas of industry
planners are new subscription plans that would define different levels of
service relative to amount of email that can be received and sent, numbers of
downloads, media streaming and other activities we presently enjoy in a free and
unencumbered fashion on the World Wide Web.

We hope it does not happen; and for it not to happen, Internet users who
value the freedoms of the Internet must call and write their U.S. senators this
week. Let them know the wrath of the violated if they would dare to vote for
the attempt by Verizon, Comcast, Bell South and other communications giants to
acquire big chunks of the now free and nondiscriminatory global service.
This would mean users would have to pay fees for virtually all services now
offered freely for use, something like ”virtual tollboths,” in the words of
analyst Jeff Chester, writing in The Nation.

The debate is heating up on Capitol Hill. The key issue to support is
”Internet neutrality.” This is the one where the public interest forces – the
people and companies that fully support the present Internet model of open
access by all – are converging. As usual, Sen. Daniel Inouye is the champion of
the people on this issue.

Along with Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Inouye
continues to argue over the latest draft of a sweeping communications bill,
called the ”Consumer’s Choice and Broadband Deployment Act,” to guarantee
Internet neutrality – ”to ensure that consumers and content companies have the
ability to use the Internet without interference or gate-keeping by the network
operators,” Inouye said.

We urge our readers to support Inouye’s effort for a free and unencumbered

Editor’s Note:

You can find another article detailing what this law will cover at Letter from Eric Schmidt, Google CEO. You can send a pre-composed or personal letter to your representatives in Congress opposing the passing of this law in a few quick clicks at It will only take a few minutes and they will automatically connect you with the right representitives for your area. Please let your voice be heard on this important issue.


This article first appeared in Indian Country Today

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