Gamer political activism turns up in the most amazing places these days - like the United States Congress, where elected officials and their staffs have been checking out Halo 2 video blog site This Spartan Life.
Like many others, TSL is concerned that some elected officials in Congress are working with the wealthy telecommunications industry to introduce new laws which threaten so-called "net neutrality."
In a nutshell, net neutrality might be considered the First Amendment of the Internet - it prevents companies from giving preference to larger sites with more traffic so that all sites are treated equally and in a non-biased manner. Translation? Your friend's MegaMan fan page takes just as long to load as GamePolitics, GameSpot, your bank's website, or your web-based e-mail.
Currently under consideration in the House is HR5252, the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006 (COPE). The bill is sponsored by Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) along with Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Rep. Charles Pickering (R-MS.) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL).
Gamers may recall Rep. Upton as the driving force behind last summer's Congressional resolution calling for the Federal Trade Comission to investigate Take-Two's marketing practices in relation to the Hot Coffee scandal. That investigation is ongoing.
The current version of COPE includes diluted net neutrality provisions. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) offered an amendment which would have put some teeth into net neutrality protection. Markey's amendment, however, failed in committee thanks to an intense industry lobbying effort.
If the telecomms have their way, they would be able to regulate traffic to sites according to their own, arbitrary decision making process. The preferred tier of web sites would have faster service and, nturally, higher fees. Blue collar sites would see slower service, perhaps even gaps in service. It's likely that COPE will be voted on by the House as early as next week. It remains to be seen whether protections for net neutrality will be considered.
This Spartan Life, essentially a talk show which director Chris Burke creates within the online Halo 2 game space, recently issued a video blog episode, Can't Buy Me Web that takes a humorous, yet direct look at what might happen if the more restrictive version of COPE is passed. The TSL vlog also urges viewers to take action and steers them to sites like Save the Internet and Democratic Media for more information.
TSL's video is so effective that certain members of Congress are taking a closer look. The crew over at TSL writes, "To our great surprise, our new video blog about net neutrality seems to have made it's way into certain congressional offices. No kidding. We are told that it is being passed around to galvanize the coalition fighting to get net neutrality written into law. We are, of course, honored to be part of the discourse."
TSL takes the same stance that most, if not all, internet content providers do. That is, if telecommunication companies are permitted to prioritize and subject website owners to different levels of service and pricing, the consumer's choice and activity on the Internet will greatly reduced. In turn, the telcomms argue that by charging fees, they would have the ability to provide new services for their clients and perform network upgrades. They also argue that by dictating traffic, consumers would enjoy a higher speed Internet than they have in the past.
How would this legislation affect the average GamePolitics reader? Imagine not being able to visit your favorite MMO because the website and server fees got so high the developer couldn't afford to pay them. Think about some telcomm bureaucrat sitting behind a desk telling you he doesn't care if your personal website doesn't load because you don't get enough traffic for him to bother with you. Or worse, you're told that you can enjoy the same access and speed that you have today, you just have to cough up more dough. These are just a few of the scenarios that keep content providers awake at night. Sooner or later, users would gravitate to the higher-tiered sites because in the world of the Internet, slow means dead.
MV: I was so moved on this issue that I wrote to U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis). Sen. Kohl wrote back, mentioning that several legislative proposals are currently being addressed by the Senate Commerce Committee which directly relate to the net neutrality issue. Additionally, the Senate Judiciary Committee will soon be considering net neutrality as part of a larger discussion on competition within the telecommunications industry.
-Reporting from Wisconsin, GP correspondent Monica Valentinelli
Want to talk about it? You can discuss this story via the "comments" feature (click below), or in the new GamePolitics Forums...