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Wednesday, June 14, 2006 | We don’t normally get the chance to weigh in on issues of national significance. We’ve done our best to provide journalism for San Diegans, by San Diegans.

But there’s an issue playing out in Congress right now that strikes at the very heart of what we do and what innovators in California have done so well over the last decades.

It’s about the Internet.

Some say it’s in trouble.

Companies like Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Amazon.com, and other providers of content and services on the Internet have started to go to war with the companies that maintain the actual wires that link all of our computers together – Internet service providers like SBC.

The purveyors of these Web sites are worried that an inherently democratic principle of equal access and free enterprise that allowed their companies to become as great as they are will vanish. In the near future, the service providers may begin to take advantage of the loss of so-called “net neutrality” regulations. The debate is complicated, for sure, but we believe there is room for concern.

SBC and others have identified a new business model. Because they own and operate the lines of communication between a person’s computer and the numerous organizations that put up Web sites, these telecommunication companies have begun to openly talk about the possibility of charging content providers to be part of a “fast lane.”

That is, a company like Yahoo Inc. could pay the Internet service providers to have their page load faster.

In other words, for the last decade, small Web sites like ours have had the ability to put up their content and hope that they can either change the world or make a buck. Some do both.

Our state has seen the most prolific of these successes, innovations developed as fast as a person could type. If some college kids had a good idea on how we could better search for articles on the Internet, they had the opportunity to put their site up and the market decided whether theirs would work or not. But what if only those organizations with vast resources could pay for the privilege of loading for visitors at the fastest speed available? Right now, a person with broadband access can get onto the voiceofsandiego.org just about as fast as they can the nytimes.com. That Old Gray Lady’s Web site, however, experiences far more traffic than ours because it has more content that far more people (so far) enjoy.

That’s fine. But what if a system developed where you had to pay big bucks to have your site load as fast as The Times’? And the traffic went to the The Times and other big companies because the little guys like us were held back by the Internet service providers?

That system would contradict directly with the principles of equality that make – and have made – the Internet the wonder of our era.

While it’s hard to imagine who could compete with The Times, the beauty of the Internet is that anyone with a keyboard can. And maybe someone smart enough and ambitious enough could make a go of it.

We can hope that consumers will simply express their frustration to network operators like AT&ampT and BellSouth Corp. if and when they notice that they can’t access the blogs or small Web sites they enjoy as easily as they can AT&T’s own Web site. We can hope.

We can also hope that AT&T and the others stay true to their confusing assurances that they’ll never do anything to make some Web sites less accessible than others.

Or we can remind the decision makers that we support any and all efforts to preserve the Internet as the beautiful vehicle for creativity and innovation that it is.

The U.S. Senate is right now considering legislation – sponsored by Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe – that would maintain “net neutrality” and although Sen. Barbara Boxer has issued unwavering statements in support of it, Sen. Diane Feinstein hasn’t. Her press office didn’t return our inquiry Tuesday.

We imagine that Feinstein, coming from a state that has benefited so much from the fact that the Internet’s neutrality opened up as many opportunities in the last decade as it did, will come around.

But if you sent her a little note, it might help.

After all, if we ever get so big and full of ourselves that we don’t do good journalism for San Diego, you, our beloved reader, may want to start a Web site to point out our errors.

voiceofsandiego.org

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