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Net Neutrality: Keeping the Internet Open and Email Untaxed

Since the invention of the Internet, net neutrality has been a fundamental operating principle of the networks that maintain it -- all content is equal. Whether an Internet user wants to read an advertisement from ExxonMobil, an email from MoveOn, or a blog run by their neighbor, the decision about what to access has belonged to users and the network has responded equally to all requests.

Now, though, some large telecom firms are trying to change all that. The companies that have built the networks that allow most Americans to access the Internet want to start providing a two-tiered Internet system -- with preferences for content providers that pony up big bucks to Internet companies. They call it the market at work. Most independent observers call it consumers getting hosed. Internet users, after all, are already paying to access the Internet. Unless we want the world wide web to start mimicking cable TV, it's tough to think of a reason why this is a good idea.

While some leading lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have made it clear that they support net neutrality, at this point there is no clear indication that the federal government will intervene to prevent the entrenching of a digital divide.

Now, AOL is concerning proponents of net neutrality in a different way. AOL has said publicly that they intend to start charging opt-in bulk mailers who want to prevent their messages from going to spam filters. In other words, AOL wants to start charging organizations like labor unions, support groups, and, yes, Progressive States to contact AOL users who have expressed interest in the information we send out.

Luckily, even with the federal government appearing unlikely to do anything, California is tackling the issue. California State Senator Dean Florez is hosting a public hearing on AOL's proposal and is already discussing net neutrality legislation. Senator Florez serves as the Chair of the Select Committee on E-Commerce, Wireless Technology, and Consumer Driven Programming, a committee formed in part to deal with issues like net neutrality.

Opposition to AOL's plan is being led by Dear AOL, a coalition of 600 groups, including political organizations from all points on the spectrum.

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