ACLU Fears Cable Internet Power

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Normally a watchdog on government, the American Civil Liberties Union is
calling on the federal government to force cable operators to carry competing
Internet-service providers to prevent the Internet from falling into the control
of a few giant cable companies.

The ACLU -- founded in 1920 to fight the government in court over assaults on
First Amendment liberties -- released a pair of reports Wednesday designed to
portray cable as a predator industry that wants to monopolize the Internet
through unfair and underhanded means.

'The hard fact is that the Internet is shifting from the open phone system to
the closed cable network,' the ACLU said in an 11-page paper that accused cable
operators of seeking to invade the privacy of Web surfers and using technical
tricks to force them to use Web sites with financial ties to cable
operators.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association said the ACLU's
report contained unsubstantiated allegations and ignored the investment cable
made to make high-speed Internet a stimulating consumer experience far superior
to plodding dial-up phone connections.

'The ACLU offers no evidence whatsoever to show that the provision by cable
operators of high-speed access to the Internet is somehow stifling development
of, or access to, any content on the Internet. All of the Internet's content is
a simple mouse click away for cable-modem users,' NCTA spokesman Marc Osgoode
Smith said.

The ACLU called on the Federal Communications Commission to impose
common-carrier regulation on cable operators in order to outlaw any interference
in the interaction between Internet users and those that populate the Internet
with their art, opinion, entertainment and commercial products.

Unless the government intervenes, 'it is very possible that the existence of
the Internet as a free and neutral civic space could come to an end,' the ACLU
said.

ACLU spokesman Jay Stanley denied that the 82-year-old organization was
departing from its traditional role as defender of the First Amendment against
government interference.

'What we are saying is that free speech is not worth anything unless the
forums where free speech take place are free,' Stanley said. 'Because the
government is failing to take action here to protect the freedom of
communication on the Internet, we are facing a problem.'

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