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Ted Stevens, grandfather of net neutrality, dies as Internet debate reemerges

August 10, 2010 |  2:36 pm

The former Alaskan senator who once described the Internet as "a series of tubes" is confirmed dead in a plane crash there.

Ted Stevens' appearance in the news now happens to synchronize with increasing discussions of one of the topics he is best known for (on the Internet, anyway).

Stevens single-handedly brought the topic of net neutrality to a more mainstream audience several years ago. Not because he understood it, necessarily.

"It's not a big truck," Stevens said of the Web in a 2006 speech to the Senate. He also anecdotally described how "an Internet was sent by my staff," and didn't arrive until days later.

"Why?" he asked rhetorically. "Because it got tangled up with all these things they've got going on the Internet commercially."

Those videos, which are really just a static picture of Stevens' face along with the audio of that speech, have accumulated millions of hits on YouTube. One "techno remix" of the speech alone has ...

... been viewed nearly 4 million times.

Net neutrality is the idea that all data on the Web are created equal. It dictates that Internet service providers cannot favor certain types of content, say, video-conferencing, over others, such as e-mail. The Federal Communications Commission has expressed support for neutrality legislation in the past.

But Verizon Wireless and Google took an opposing stance last week, one that Stevens argued so ineloquently four years ago. The two Internet giants proposed a plan that would allow providers to slow or halt access to channels it believes are being used for illegal file swapping, as well as offer subscriptions for speedier access to what a provider deems premium content.

Not surprisingly, the FCC was none too pleased with the proposal, which would cut out that government body as a Web regulator. In a statement FCC Commissioner Michael Copps suggested the FCC should be in charge of discussions "to guarantee an open Internet now and forever, and to put the interests of consumers in front of the interests of giant corporations."

Stevens left the Senate with a scarred record, after he was found guilty of seven counts of making false statements; however, those charges and the indictment were later dismissed due to prosecutorial misconduct.

That and four decades in office aside, Stevens may go down foremost as the person who popularized the abstract but important topic of net neutrality -- albeit in a clumsy way.

-- Mark Milian

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