Net deal virtually screws world with pants still on

The Internet is a series of tubes. Or at least it used to be. As the “information superhighway” emerges from adolescence, you and I may soon find ourselves relegated to the heavy traffic on the right, while those willing and able to pay more enjoy their own, faster diamond lane.

Simply, we have just lived through the Golden Age of the Internet. The days of free and equal access (to say nothing of anonymity) may soon whiz by us altogether.

You remember it, don’t you? The mid 1990′s through the 2010′s when “cyber space” was a wild west of land grabbing, domain name snatching, de-facto anonymity and poorly-designed websites. It was a place for chitchat on message boards, chat rooms and AIM, with few users (comparatively) and little corporate investment.

Today, clearly it’s more. Difficult to define, it is a resource, a commodity, a necessity. A more developed, faster Internet with a more tech savvy, e-literate audience has opened communication and increased information. It has reshaped commercial activity and social interactions. It has fundamentally altered the landscape of our culture.

It is inseparable from our lives.

When the buzz on Twitter makes the gossip columns, nightly news, and the papers, you know it ain’t how it used to be.

But, you knew all that, right?

Because until we admit to ourselves just how important the net has become, it’s impossible to understand the importance of net neutrality.

The New York Times explains it like this:

“The concept of ‘net neutrality’ holds that companies providing Internet service should treat all sources of data equally. It has been the center of a debate over whether those companies can give preferential treatment to content providers who pay for faster transmission, or to their own content, in effect creating a two-tier Web, and about whether they can block or impede content representing controversial points of view.”

The Internet’s future isn’t hard to predict in general terms. News, entertainment, opinion, discussion and commerce will continue flooding our screens and gushing forth from our notebooks, pads, desktops and phones.

You should care about this issue because it will determine if you get equal access to what others are saying, and that others have equal access to what you say. If net neutrality fails, in some instances, access to information online may become limited due to slower speed; in others, access may be denied entirely because of contractual disputes or blocked because of political disagreements.

I get my Internet from Verizon, and Comcast owns NBC. Unchecked, it’s possible that one day I could wake up and find I’m blocked from watching “Dateline” and “The Office.” Access to a political blog with opinions unfavorable toward Verizon could become subtly or blatantly blocked to me, too. My favorite “mom and pop” website will be outpaced by Target online.

Suddenly, that’s news, entertainment, opinion and products I’m unable to access.

I don’t trust anyone to tell me what I can and cannot read, watch or hear. Further, I don’t trust for-profit companies to care about my equal right to information. I don’t think they are inherently bad, they just really don’t care.

And that’s fine.

But, we need a mechanism to ensure that access to information, in terms of literal access and in terms of speed, remains equal.

In the future, speed will influence everything. And so even a subtle discrimination like lower speeds will, in part, determine access. And access determines which voices are heard and which are not. We have become our own editors, determining what we feel is important and sharing that with others. I don’t think many people would embrace going back.

Recently, Congress announced they would begin re-examining the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which essentially governs the entire communication industry in the U.S. The fourteen-year-old act barely mentions the Internet, and yet remains the regulatory framework for just about everything from obscenity and violence in the media, to telecommunication, broadcast and cable services, to anti-trust rules for the industry.

More recently, Google and Verizon together proposed a model for the future of net neutrality that have caused many to become uneasy. Especially as some claim that Google is back peddling from it’s former hard line position in favor of net neutrality.

As Congress begins to re-write these laws, and as interest groups and corporations begin to lobby for a new architecture and design for how we communicate, I urge you to think carefully about what net neutrality really means.

Senator Franken, an advocate for net neutrality, wrote his take on the issue for CNN.com:

“The internet was developed at taxpayer expense to benefit the public interest. If we let corporations prioritize some content over others, we’ll lose what makes it so valuable to our economy, our democracy and our daily lives.

Net neutrality may sound like a technical issue, but it’s the key to preserving the Internet as we know it — and it’s the most important First Amendment issue of our time.”

TL:DR – Here’s a fun video made by SaveTheInternet.com!!

Graphic by Steve Greenberg, photo by Steve Rhodes

Jason Potteiger I’m a Suffolk U. grad with degrees in Political Science and Advertising. I like reading both John and Douglas Adams and spending time in the mountains of New Hampshire (where I grew up). These days I call Boston home, but I have aspirations of one day working in Washington, D.C. and New Delhi, India. Subscribe to Jason's Posts via RSS 

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7 Responses to “Net deal virtually screws world with pants still on”

  1. Jeff Shattuck

    Al Franken does not know much about the Internet. Worse, his political grandstanding around free speech is either disingenuous or foolish.

    In my opinion, the fix for all this is to simply mandate that content creators cannot also own content delivery. Boom, Done, problem solved! Sadly, .gov does not favor simple laws, so that leaves two alternatives (at least that I can think of).

    1) legislate that no Internet traffic shall receive priority over any other

    or

    2) legislate that within content categories (video, voice, etc.) all content must be treated equally (for example, all video moves at the same speed).

    Unfortunately, both of these are way easier said than done.

    For (1), it’s just stupid to force something that must arrive in near-real-time (voice) to travel at the same speed of something that is not real-time (a file). For (2), defining categories is actually pretty hard (ie, video vs. audio vs. video call).

    And that’s the rub. This whole net neutrality discussion isn’t as simple as Al wants it to be. Google and Verizon are at least trying to do something practical and if you go back read about what they have agreed to it makes a lot of sense.

    Reply
    • Jason Potteiger

      Jeff,

      I think I’m at fault for grand standing a bit myself. The propisal that G & V worked out isn’t that bad. Also, it’s just a proposal, not a deal or a new policy they will enact. But it does signal that this issue is really starting to pick up. Further, a lot of people are very nervous about this issue and the appearance of back peddling by both Google and the Obama administration isn’t helping.

      In the end this is a first amendment issue worth all our time. And something that deserves debate.

      Reply
      • Quantumplation

        From reading the agreement and material available on it, the only reason it appears that google is backpedaling is because it’s trying to cooperate with Verizon to bring the issue to the forefront.

        Up until now, net neutrality has been the topic discussed by the 20th century equivalent of hippies: “Yea man, the interent should be… like… free and open and stuff.” It’s been on the back of many people’s minds, but noones _done_ anything about it. Google was the first big player to make their stance on Net Neutrality known, and is trying to draw everyone else into the game. By striking a mild, doesn’t-really-say-anything-about-anything deal with Verizon, the issue not only gains more public visibility, but it allows google to inject it’s ideas into the ground framework: No prioritization of traffic, and absolute transparency on services provided. Keep in mind this is a (keyword) compromise between Google, someone who’s been very open about their commitment to Net Neutrality, and Verizon, someone who stands very much to gain from the loss of the net neutrality battle. Thus, Google will appear to be “softening”, and Verizon will appear to be stepping into play. Whereas Google can “firm up” its stance again, Verizon is now stuck in the net-neutrality game.

        Reply
  2. Justin

    Another example of why you should be scared when you hear ‘i’m from the government and I’m here to help.’

    Reply
  3. Julia Drewniak

    I spent a whole semester studying issues like this; thanks for the great post! I think people don’t understand how legislation, for or against NN, will really effect them until they are suddenly unable to get to their favorite sites. Here’s one of my classmate’s posts about it: http://bit.ly/cpliSr
    Heck, our own blog here might not get the attention it deserves anymore because other bigger ones, or ones that can pay will be able to take over.

    Reply

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