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Federal Court Ruling Threatens Internet Freedoms

By James Donahue

It appeared at first blush to be an almost insignificant matter involving a disagreement between a small company that wanted to offer a service that allowed exchanges of full-length movies via the Internet.

That company, BitTorrent, and the Federal Communications Commission which ruled in favor of BitTorrent’s operations, found themselves facing litigation by broadband giant Comcast.

Comcast argued in its lawsuit in a District of Columbia federal court that broadband providers are spending billions of dollars on their networks and should have the right to sell and manage just who can buy the service and how it will be used. The corporation was especially concerned about the BitTorrent plan to hog volumes of Internet capacity via the exchange of full length films.

As anyone that downloads and views such films via the Internet knows, it takes a lot of memory and some very high-speed computer equipment to do this successfully.

While we can agree with the Comcast argument, the court ruling also appears to have stripped away the power of the FCC to regulate broadband and assure free expression of the arts and information via the Internet. What is alarming is that it appears to have put big business interests in control of who can use the Internet service and what it can or cannot be used for.

And to paraphrase Shakespeare: There lies the rub.

While most people might believe that major corporations like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon Communications, that provide most of the broadband services in the United States, would not care about the content of individual Internet web sites, we believe the court has opened the door for serious trouble.

Indeed, big business interests are very interested in the content that appears in many of the opinion web sites, and will not hesitate to switch off sites that publish the work of good investigative journalism if the stories embarrass the wrong people or expose wrong-doing in certain high places.

From the way some of our government leaders behaved during the Christian oriented Bush years, we believe a Bible-thumping executive in a corporation like Comcast might even make the decision to disconnect all porn and/or art sites that display the nude human body from Internet viewers. Hasn’t something like that just happened in China?

Just after 9-11, when President Bush and his military advisors were planning a military attack on Afghanistan, we published a strong commentary advising against such a move. We suggested, instead, that the United States send a small and specialized team of commandos into the area to seek out Osama bin Laden and his gang, arrest or dispose of them in the most efficient way possible, and be done with it. We felt then, as we still do today, that attacking an entire country because of the act of a terrorist group operating within that country and not sanctioned by the Afghan government, was the wrong approach. As it has turned out, it appears that we were right.

After that story appeared, the web host we were using shut off access to our web site. Attempts to contact the web host went unanswered. We were given no explanation for the blockage. The site remained in limbo for weeks. In the end we were forced to contract with a new web host and start all over. We even lost our domain name over that affair. The name was available on the open market but the price was so steep we refused to pay it.

That is an example of the kind of sabotage that even a web host can cause if someone in that business does not agree with what we are writing and publishing. The 9-11 attack created a strange web of fear and paranoia throughout the nation that lasted for months before people began thinking rationally again. Anyone questioning anything less than a military attack on those responsible for what happened was considered unpatriotic and even suspected as a terrorist in disguise.

We have watched the American media crumble in recent years from the giants who once served as watchdogs of government and military chicanery and perversion to the strange limp-wristed characters now hanging out in press rooms, waiting for the next news release from hired press secretaries. Helen Thomas may be among the last of the old breed of great American journalists who still dared to ask presidents the embarrassing question that nobody else wants to bring up.

With television news stations like Fox News and Rupert Murdock’s growing chain of newspapers distorting the information fed to the American people, and other news outlets resorting to more feature reporting than solid news delivery, open access to the Internet has become more important than ever.

Many of us have considered the Internet the last bastion of freedom for people all over the world. Yet with the Chinese government attempting to control what the Chinese people read and see on the web, and with this new federal court ruling that appears to strip the FCC of its ability to maintain the Internet as a free communication system, there is growing concern that even this outlet of information is about to be controlled.

Once a government controls the exchange of information, it controls the minds of the people. For a perfect example of this, look at what has happened in North Korea.


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