"Net Neutrality" -- allowing consumers to choose what websites they visit on the Internet, as opposed to having the cable and telephone companies choose for them -- went down to defeat after a tie 11-11 vote in the Senate Commerce Committee. Should this stand on the Senate floor, big cable and telephone broadband providers will become toll collectors on the Internet, charging websites extra fees for higher-speed delivery to the consumer, while condemning everyone else to the slow lane.
Who will pay those tolls? Those who can afford to - the already big, fat, established and constipated, at the expense of the hustling, innovative, independent, creative start up. Had this Pay to Play on the Net System been permitted a few years ago, Google would still be in a garage. Rocketboom would be Rocketbust. MySpace? Try TheirSpace. You get the idea.
So how is this tie vote loss a near win for the public?
Just a few weeks ago, who had ever heard of "net neutrality?" How many Americans knew that in the name of the public interest their officials were quietly turning over control of the Internet to those nice folks at the telephone and cable monopolies, who were then going to sell preferential treatment on "their" Net to the highest bidder?
Yet, as word spread of this looming threat to the openness and freedom of the Internet that we all cherish -- that protects our beloved Huffington Post! -- a flood of emails, faxes, and phone calls deluged Capitol Hill offices. Senators were suddenly asking each other, "What the heck is this 'Net Neutrality?'" That a pro-Net Neut amendment nearly made it into a bill full of Big Wet Kisses for the cable and telephone companies is vivid proof of how strongly people feel about protecting their Internet, once they understand the threat. The more they hear, the less they like.
Lest you think this is a partisan issue, or of interest only to a bunch of Net Heads, check out who's got our right flank: the Gun Owners of America and the Christian Coalition!
In an impassioned appeal, GOP Senator Snowe called network neutrality "the founding principle of the Internet and the single greatest reason for its growth... For the first time, content on the Internet will be selected by the network operator... We're going to consolidate the power of the Internet in the hands of a few... Consumers will have all the selection and choices of a former Soviet supermarket."
On the Senate floor, with 60 votes required to end a promised filibuster against this bill, this "near win" for the public can become a real win. Keep those emails, faxes, and phone calls coming in support of Net Neutrality. And join the million plus of Americans who have now signed a petition at savetheinternet.com.