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The New Mexico Independent - 'Net Neutrality' Lost?

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Location: Albuquerque, NM


The New Mexico Independent - 'Net Neutrality' Lost?

An axiom of our world is that things have sped up. The effect has increased exponentially with each passing generation, and for many of us who came of age in the 1980s and 1990s we've seen and felt it proceed at almost mach speed. In many ways, it's due to increases in productivity — we can produce more because our transportation and information infrastructure is incredibly quicker and more efficient than it used to be.

Much of this has to do with the Internet, which has changed how we communicate drastically, becoming an essential aspect of how we participate in both our democracy and our economy. Providing us with instant communication -- of all sorts -- the Internet is a virtual superhighway, facilitating the exchange of both our ideas and our commerce, not to mention serving as an innovation platform for both large and small enterprises. Plus, in a very important way, it's opened up the world in general for those outside the jet-set.

And while still fairly new, those of us who have access to it now already in large measure take it for granted.

But maybe we shouldn't.

As it turns out, our access to the Internet is for the most part provided by large private telephone and cable companies. In most markets, you have to choose between one or the other as your Internet service provider, or "ISP." In this way they're like a duopoly -- which means Internet access is controlled in most areas by just a couple of companies. Like the telecommunications industry in general, which has consolidated from 50 controlling companies in 1984 to about six today, it's hardly a highly competitive market.

And many fear this structure threatens the "neutrality" of the Internet. The term "net neutrality," in essence, refers to the idea that in order to be most useful, the Internet shouldn't discriminate among users. Tim Wu, a Columbia Law School professor, uses the analogy of an electric grid:

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New Mexico's future congressional delegation

The New Mexico Independent was curious about what those who are running for federal office in New Mexico think about the issue. As it turned out, Democratic contenders were all informed on the topic and knew where they stood. Conversely, none of the Republicans running for Congress responded to the inquiry. They either declined to comment because of the complexity of the issue or declined all comment. First Congressional District candidate Darren White refused to respond despite several requests.

Democrat Ben Ray Lujan, who is running for the Third Congressional District seat, said corporations shouldn't be "gatekeepers of the Internet" and that a tiered system would stall innovation and slow growth. "I've been very vocal when it comes to companies ensuring access is there for all New Mexicans, and will be just as vocal about keeping the Internet open," he said.

Lujan also was the only person who spoke directly to the issue of capacity. He told the Independent that the Internet access should be viewed as a responsibility of government as well as private industry. If capacity isn't being met, he said, state and federal government should work together and look at ways to having funding mechanisms in place to ensure capacity creation while protecting neutrality.

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