Attention Science Geeks!
Banned Books Week

One World, One Web


Today is One Web Day, which is sort of like Earth Day for the Web. I'm blogging about it because (a) the web has become a huge part of my life and (b) it's facing some dangerous challenges right now that I think are important to address. Without the web, I would not have found the community of book artists whose work has inspired me so much in the past couple of years. Without the web, I would not have been able to learn as much on my own as easily as I have. Sure, there are always books, but where else can you find videos and attend workshops in your pajamas from the comfort of your own home, for free or a nominal fee?

I would not have the network of fellow fans to read and post fiction with, or the outlets of my two blogs for my own writing. At least a couple of my poems would not have seen the light of day if not for the Web journals that published them. My first piece of professional fiction was published by a webzine, Strange Horizons. I can't even begin to list the things I've learned about on the Web from bookbinding techniques to Zen Buddhism practices. Not to mention how easy the Internet has made it to keep up with my far-flung network of friends, or the new friends I've made because of it.

Sadly, if Big Business has its way, all that may change. I'll let explain:

The nation's largest telephone and cable companies -- including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner -- want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won't load at all.

They want to tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data. They want to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video -- while slowing down or blocking their competitors.

These companies have a new vision for the Internet. Instead of an even playing field, they want to reserve express lanes for their own content and services -- or those from big corporations that can afford the steep tolls -- and leave the rest of us on a winding dirt road.

This has huge implications for schools, non-profits, libraries, home-based businesses, and individuals. For example, this has already been an issue much discussed among the members of the freelance editors organization I belong to. Most of us work at home, and our daily emails with attached PDF or ppt files can top 10 mb apiece, easily. None of us can afford hundreds of dollars of monthly Internet service charges for business-level  service packages. Comcast has already gotten their hands slapped for this.

It also has the potential to stifle new developments in computing, such as the burgeoning "cloud computing," in which users store their files (photos, important documents, backup files) online instead of just on your hard disk. If you don't think this is a useful innovation, I have two words for you: Hurricane Katrina. Imagine your house burns down, is destroyed in a tornado, or that you're overseas and have lost your passport. How much easier would it be to have access to all your important documents in your online backup vault? Well, duh. Great, that is, unless you've exceeded your bandwidth access limit.

This doesn't even begin to describe the plight of people working in video or music. As it stands, the Internet allows world-wide collaborations between artists without the expense of travel. When so much artistic work is now done digitally, restricting bandwidth has the effect of stifling artists by adding another layer of expense to the activities. Not only do you have to buy expensive equipment and software, but your email costs could be exorbitant too.

The Internet has reached the level of being a necessary utility now, like electricity, phone, and sewer service. Access to it should be regulated the same way: everybody gets equal reasonable access. In fact, I would go so far as to say that free wifi ought to publicly available to everyone, as part of the infrastructure. Already, the poor are much less likely to be connected and Internet savvy, something brought home to me each day in my college classroom in the South Bronx, and the Internet has the greatest potential for helping exactly these people. Yet I'm shocked at both how many of my students don't have home access, or even own a computer, and by how few really know how to use what they've got. Further restricting their access is not the answer. Knowledge is power, and restricting people's access to that knowledge is criminal.

Learn more about Net Neutrality and how you can help preserve it here.


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