Internet users need protection from the power of monopolistic cable providers said the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) this week.
In a statement on the union's website Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program, said: "Many people don't realise that if current policies continue, a handful of big monopolies will gain power over information flowing through the internet.
"Freedom of speech doesn't mean much if the forums where that speech takes place are not free."
The ACLU said that following the shift to cable services, internet access had to be adapted to a medium that has been far more subject to centralised control and could lead to the internet coming under private control.
The group has funded two reports to study the issue, with collaboration from the Centre for Digital Democracy (CDD) and research from consulting firm Columbia Telecommunications Corporation (CTC).
Jeff Chester, executive director at CDD, said the government had to act to preserve the internet's open, common-carrier status where cable carriers are concerned.
"Citizens and community groups must play an aggressive role in shaping the future of the high-speed internet, especially ensuring that local networks offer a diversity of broadband content and services," Chester said.
But the government seems to want "rebranding and resale of wholesale services", which would leave the cable operator in control of the product.
As a result, it created only the illusion of real competition and consumer choice, not true open access, he said.
The ACLU's policy analysis hits out at the government for failing to extend to the broadband internet crucial regulatory protections that help keep today's internet free and open to all.
"Unless the government changes course a handful of large corporations will have both the incentive and the ability to interfere with the free flow of information across the network," the report warns.
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