Saving Network Neutrality

Posted by in Technology

Photo by Jason Walton CC BY 2.0

Photo by Jason Walton CC BY 2.0

I honestly don’t believe it is an overstatement to say that the Internet has been the single greatest achievement in the advancement of information and communication since the invention of the printing press. We are still only beginning to understand how this technology will change the world. Unfortunately, the freedom we enjoy on the Internet is threatened constantly and must be guarded in order to ensure it’s continued availability. Network Neutrality is often regulated to the background of political discussion. It’s something left for debate by the guys in the IT department, but this issue touches everyone. If Washington politicians treat it casually without understanding the impact of their decisions, we could stifle the Internet for generations.

Admittedly, this is a complicated issue. It doesn’t lend itself to a quick or easy explanation, but I will do my best to summarize it. Since the Internet’s inception, it has existed in this nation without restriction to content, sites or platforms. Google, a staunch supporter of neutrality regulation defines the topic:

“Network neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet. The Internet has operated according to this neutrality principle since its earliest days… Fundamentally, net neutrality is about equal access to the Internet. In our view, the broadband carriers should not be permitted to use their market power to discriminate against competing applications or content. Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online.”

What this means is that the Service Providers such as Comcast or AT&T act as access providers only. The ISP must remain neutral to the content. This principal maintains relative freedom of access to information. It means ISPs can’t stop users from downloading pirated software and media, but the same standard also prevents the government from censoring unfavorable content such as is done in nations like China and Iran.

On October 22, 2009, Senator John McCain (R – Arizona) introduced legislation that would seek to prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from enacting rules that would regulate network neutrality. Content of the bill can be found at the Senate’s website here. The bill, in the best Orewellian Doublespeak tradition, is titled the Internet Freedom Act. While I understand the reaction to limit government involvement in private industry, these circumstances require just such involvement. In? 90% of all situations the market is able to regulate itself. In most common situations, it is in industry’s best interest to do what is most beneficial for the public. There are cases, however, where government regulation is required to protect consumers from business. It is, after all, in the nature of a business to provide value for it’s shareholders. It is when these two goals compete that the public good is neglected. We should not expect, nor be disappointed, when a corporation, which is designed solely to produce profit, chooses this course over that of charity. However, some matters are too important to be left to profit. Net neutrality is just such an issue.

While I believe McCain to be a man of principle and integrity, I can only assume that he is grossly misinformed concerning the nature of this subject. Internet service providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon function in a state of near monopoly. Consumers have, at most, two choices of providers when it comes to high-speed connections in their area. If these providers are given the ability to discriminate against certain types of data packets, the consequences could be disastrous. For example, what is to stop Comcast from preventing access to Hulu or other sites that directly compete with it’s profitable premium cable content? Why would AT&T choose to maintain equal bandwidth for Skype, a service that provides inexpensive international calling which eats into long distance calling profits for the telecom giant? Or, the worse case scenario could occur. ISPs could offer such services, but only at added “tiered” rates. This would leave consumers paying additional fees for access to highly popular websites.

The Internet has made information available to billions. Each day knowledge continues to spread at a staggering rate.? We are truly still in the early stages of this information revolution and the precedents we set now will determine accessibility for future generations. Network neutrality is an important issue. I implore you to become informed and encourage your elected representatives to do the same. If we aren’t careful our children might find themselves in a world of limits instead of possibilities.

If you are interested in preserving network neutrality and would like to help, please email your Representative and Senators or get involved by visiting savetheinternet.com.