This is seriously bad for the Internet because it restructures a universe in which competition is on the basis of content alone, in order to give advantages to established sites and large companies that want to break in. The result will be a decrease in quality content overall, and a disincentive to seek out content that isn't from an established player. Politically, it will stifle the free and equal marketplace of ideas that exists currently on the Internet in favor of establishment voices. All in all, it's a bad deal.
The New York Times has a great editorial today about the importance of Net Neutrality in keeping the Internet democratic:
One of the Internet's great strengths is that a single blogger or a small political group can inexpensively create a Web page that is just as accessible to the world as Microsoft's home page. But this democratic Internet would be in danger if the companies that deliver Internet service changed the rules so that Web sites that pay them money would be easily accessible, while little-guy sites would be harder to access, and slower to navigate. Providers could also block access to sites they do not like.
That would be a financial windfall for Internet service providers, but a disaster for users, who could find their Web browsing influenced by whichever sites paid their service provider the most money. There is a growing movement of Internet users who are pushing for legislation to make this kind of discrimination impossible. It has attracted supporters ranging from MoveOn.org to the Gun Owners of America. Grass-roots political groups like these are rightly concerned that their online speech could be curtailed if Internet service providers were allowed to pick and choose among Web sites.
Matt Stoller on MyDD has ways you can help. AlterNet contributor Evan Derkacz is reporting on Democrats' efforts in Congress to preserve net neutrality:
Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) threw down the gauntlet just moments ago, introducing the Network Neutrality Act of 2006 [full text HERE], which "[offers a] choice between favoring the broadband designs of a small handful of very large companies, and safeguarding the dreams of thousands of inventors, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. This legislation is designed to save the Internet and thwart those who seek to fundamentally and detrimentally alter the Internet as we know it."
This is an important issue for the Internet and I hope the Network Neutrality Act passes.