There's been plenty written about the ever-vigilant blogosphere's effects on the coming election. Now the Washington Post examines a new twist to blogger/candidate relations: the aggressive push by bloggers for a direct say in Internet-related policymaking. The key issue at stake, as Post staff writer Charles Babington reports, is net neutrality, the term for the growing movement to keep Internet providers (primarily large telecom companies) from charging tolls on content from certain websites and applications (I.E. those offered by competitors). Should anti-neutrality measures be enacted, failure to pay your monthly fees for full Web ingress would result in slow loading and maybe even prohibition of certain sites by your cable operator. The fight over whether such a toll is legal/constitutional/ethical has been heating up in the past year, with AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner (all of which combined operate 98% of U.S. high-speed Internet lines) wrangling support from Congress to shoot down "pro-neutrality" legislation in 2006. The money at stake is no paltry sum; the Telecommunications Industry Association estimates that total broadband revenue reached $23.1 billion in 2006, and projects a $30.2 billion profit in 2009. While one side sees a web toll as stomping on freedom of speech and slowing economic growth, telecom giants counter with the stance that they're entitled to charge fees to help them recoup the billions they invest to build networks.
Despite the potential for any and all web sites to take a hit if anti-neutrality acts make it through Congress, the debate over the issue has emerged as strictly partisan, with Democrats staunchly in favor of neutrality legislation - and with good reason, since, as Babington points out, a good portion of the party's most adamant supporters reside in the liberal blogosphere and have a fierce interest in maintaining free public access to their blogs. In a true testament to the influence of political bloggers, every major Democratic candidate has reportedly endorsed net neutrality - though some are, according to Babington's sources, doing it as much out of fear of repercussion as any deep-seated desire to see a free and unrestricted Internet. Web-based organizations like the 3 million-member MoveOn.org have issued pro-neutrality petitions (with the implication being that those who fail to support it will themselves not receive support), coalitions like Savetheinternet.com are forming rapidly and Democratic consultants are reportedly embracing the notion that, "'if you're not for net neutrality, then the blogs will kick your' rear." A fair statement, but still not an explanation for why conservative bloggers haven't snatched up the torch as well (though, as the Post points out, both the Christian Coalition of America and the Gun Owners of America are part of the SavetheInternet coalition). Regardless, the debate will likely only get more heated as the political blog-frenzy gains momentum heading into November '08.
This post also appeared on Huffpo's Eat The Press.