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Pass Net neutrality bill Keep the Internet playing field level, so that all have equal online access

The reintroduction of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act is right on target and should bring more attention to the issue of Net neutrality. The bill's early reintroduction in the new session is a positive sign that this issue is getting the focus it deserves.

The Senate bill, originally introduced by Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan last year, stands a better chance in the new Democrat-controlled Congress. It should be passed.

Under the legislation, Internet network operators would not be able to "block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair or degrade" access to content or prevent users from attaching devices of their choosing to the network.

Network operators also would be barred from making special deals with content providers to ensure speedier delivery or improved quality of service, and would be required to offer all Internet material on an "equivalent" basis.

In other words, the Internet would remain democratic. The playing field would stay level for everyone either posting or looking up information on the computer-linking system.

And some large companies would be blocked from tilting that playing field in ways that might make things easier for their customers, but would leave others with less than state-of-the-art access.

Consumer groups and a large number of Internet companies do support this bill. They include, eBay, Google, InterActiveCorp, Microsoft and Yahoo.

Think of it this way: The Internet has evolved as a public highway, and the big phone and cable companies want to turn it into a toll road. Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and all the big phone and cable providers would become like the Thruway Authority, offering a major and faster highway than Routes 5 or 20, but at a cost.

Network neutrality is a legal safeguard against this kind of pay-as-you-go, pay-as-you-surf Internet.

The Internet's development was supported by a federal policy requiring phone companies not to discriminate against content. The phone and cable companies did not want to see that safeguard remain on the Internet so, in 2005, they went to the Federal Communications Commission and essentially eliminated the nondiscrimination safeguard.

Network neutrality restores nondiscrimination and creates a level playing field for all Web sites, reflecting how the Internet developed. The battle over network neutrality is to help ensure that there will be real competition on the Internet, so small businesses, nonprofits and education will have an equal digital playing field.

The fact that some of the most powerful Internet companies in the world are troubled by the phone and cable companies' plans and are part of the coalition for this bill just illustrates what is at stake. As one expert said, if Bill Gates is shaking in his digital boots, then small, independent start-up entrepreneurs should be very alarmed.

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