Berners-Lee: Neutrality preserves Net openness

Tim Berners-Lee, who created the World Wide Web, condemned efforts to control content by U.S. broadband providers.

The computer scientist credited with inventing the World Wide Web on Tuesday strongly condemned moves by US broadband providers to control their subscribers' content, saying it threatens the Internet's greatest strength: openness.

Tim Berners-Lee said some Internet regulation is needed but should be minimal. He said efforts to control content have far-reaching impacts on other areas for users, such as decisions on voting and development of democracy.

"I hope that the U.S. will come to the right decision and there is a very strong groundswell of opinion for net neutrality," Berners-Lee said. He spoke at the 15th International World Wide Web conference, an all-week meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, exploring new Internet technology.

U.S. lawmakers are considering net neutrality legislation that would require broadband companies to provide the same level of service for all content.

Last week, members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a new bill, called the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act, that would require broadband providers, if they prioritize or offer enhanced quality of service for some content, to offer the same level of service to all content of that type at no charge.

Net neutrality has strong support from consumer groups, but the many telecoms oppose legislation, saying it will increase the cost of broadband.

Gatekeeping by ISPs (Internet service providers) hasn't worked well in the past, and many ISPs did not have much success trying to pin users into one Internet content area, Berners-Lee said.

Broadly, Berners-Lee said the Internet is poised for a huge amount of change in its use and abilities. As opposed to the evolution of the vehicle or the television, the Internet is a much more abstract space with higher potential for innovation.

"There is a huge amount of change to come," Berners-Lee said. "If you look back 20 years ... you realize we are in an embryonic stage of the Web from many points of view."

"It's very tempting to look at technology at any point and think 'That's it. That's what a car looks like.' Well, they kept on changing and changing and changing in lots of ways, and I think in a way the Web is going to be more revolutionary," he said.

Berners-Lee is involved in development of the "Semantic Web," enabling machines to intelligently interpret data and route that data in ways that are intuitive for users. The Semantic Web incorporates a tagging language called Resource Description Framework to describe data, similar to how HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) is used for documents, he said.

For example, rather than a user having to write down information from a Web site, the information could be automatically routed to any application or device, Berners-Lee said.

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Jeremy Kirk

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