Freedom of speech and the Internet will remain where it is — at least for the moment — because a Senate resolution to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s open Internet rules failed.
To understand the importance of the measure, you first have to understand how the Internet works. Each time when we use the Net to to send an e-mail, play a game, make a phone call, download a song or watch an online video, we’re using it to communicate with other parties. Between our computer and the ones we’re interacting with, there are many more computers, routers and wires. Data flows through servers, which are operated by the ISP (Internet Service Providers — the ones we pay for Internet services), and from there across some systems that make up the Internet and process the data according to a set of rules known as the “Internet Protocol,” or IP.
Usually, users don’t think about this process and tend to believe that our digital data flows between parties we choose to communicate with — automatically and unaltered.
ISPs control our Internet experience. How can they threaten our privacy? Easily.
Every time we do something online, the ISP can see, interfere and limit our actions. With today’s technology, they can even get into our secure computer and watch everything we do. And that’s not all: ISPs can force us to use their own software applications and filter out content we want to visit — but they don’t want us to see.
Some examples of ISPs who’ve restricted user access:
- AT&T proposed a software anti-piracy program in order to find out if their users were infringing content, and managed to restrict access to some websites.
- BellSouth denied some customers access to MySpace and YouTube due to their refusal to pay for BellSouth’s quality of service package.
- Cingular blocked PayPal in order to force users to use another online payment service, Direct Bill.
The FCC’s rules will curb such practices. Since the effort in the Senate to overturn them failed 46-52, we’re out of the woods for now.