Monday, August 23, 2010

Net Neutrality: A Brief Commentary

The world wide web was built centered around the principle that ALL information is created equal and is uploaded with certain unalienable rights, that among these are decent upload speeds, efficient service and the pursuit of the American dream for ALL content providers. This is the framework for net neutrality. The problem with net neutrality however, is that it is in direct opposition to the corporate interest. Net neutrality threatens the fabric of capitalism and the potential that Internet innovation and technology as a whole presents to the elite. This is why conspiracy theorists have always encouraged the socially conscious, knowledge seekers and everyone in between to take advantage of the freedom of cyber space while it is still an open forum, because the day would come when the face of the Internet would change forever and these restless voices who have used the Internet to spread there good news would be silenced. It seems as if that day may be approaching.

The Google/Verizon deal, which by now everyone is familiar with, would give Google or any other content provider willing to pay, an advantage over other providers. For example, if this deal goes through, an individual with a Gmail account would receive faster, better service then someone with a Yahoo account. In other words if you can afford to pay, then your data won’t delay!

Right now as it stands, a level playing field exists within the Internet community. Cyberspace is the only place in this world where everyone is equal, from celebrities, to politicians to everyday citizens. Online your ideas can reach the far ends of the planet and can be shared, embraced, debate and sold. Because this is the case, a blog like the Urban Politico founded by regular, everyday Americans can have just as profound an effect on the world as the Washington Post or the New York Times. Regulated by the FCC, these are the principles that the Internet was founded on, yet like other aspects of our Democracy, those in power seem to be threatened by this freedom and have decided that it is time to take it from us. Net Neutrality gives a voice to the voiceless; and helps disseminate information, which would otherwise go unnoticed. By forcing content providers to pay a toll for faster more efficient service, you are essentially creating two Internet lanes. A fast lane and a slow lane. Regardless of the nature of the content, if you are willing or in a position to pay big money for your information to be prioritized, above that of someone who cannot, then too bad. As usual, like everything else these days preferential treatment is given to those who can afford to buy it, while the little guy gets left in the dust. But what I don’t think the architect ‘s of this plan considered was that to end net neutrality is to end Internet innovation. By silencing the 80% of innovators who cannot pay for preferential treatment and allow the 20% to flourish you are basically stagnating the evolution of the Internet and making it impossible for us to enjoy whatever brilliant ideas may arise over the next 20 or so years and beyond. Can you imagine if net neutrality had ended 5 or 6 years ago. Twitter may not ever have been invented!

Unfortunately a net neutrality debate should not even exist, considering that the Federal Communications Commission has the power to approve or deny this deal with the wave of there magic wand. Yet to date the FCC has remained silent. So silent that members of congress recently wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, stating that “formal FCC action is needed!”

According to PC World The letter to Genachowski states that "The deployment of broadband service is a national imperative--as important to our nation's economic success, growth, and competitiveness as the postal roads, canals, rail lines, and interstate highways of the past."

Just to elaborate briefly on that point, considering the touch economic crisis that this country is facing, Internet revenue has been a godsend to many Americans who may not have been able to make ends meat otherwise.

The representative summed up the letter by urging that the FCC efforts should "focus on adherence to the public interest, discourage attempts to strangle the free-flow of lawful content, applications and services for American consumers and provide certainty both for entrepreneurs and Internet users."

Organizations such as the Save the Internet Coalition and the Open Internet Coalition have been speaking out since the Google/Verizon deal first broke into the news a few weeks ago. Here’s a sample of some of the back-and-forth. The Open Internet Coalition argues that it is a fundamental principle :

Too often, the discussion of why we need to protect the open Internet degenerates into a stale debate about regulation versus the free market. In fact, it’s impossible for innovation to continue without some basic rules of the road to protect that innovation.

The open Internet was the principle leading the development of the Internet as the first open global communications network. And it helped drive the development of a host of Internet applications like Facebook, YouTube, and Skype. There would have been no motivation for the developers of these applications to have expended time, effort, and in some cases, their own financial security, in pursuit of their vision if they weren’t guaranteed their inventions would have been able to work over any Internet connection.

Pretty deep stuff right? I will end this portion of this commentary with a note from Google released in 2006 in favor of keeping net neutrality in existence. It is hard to believe that 4 years later there tune has completely changed. Has Google sold out? Is net neutrality just one of many freedoms being stripped away from us, to satisfy the corporate interest? What are your thoughts on this debate?

A Note to Google Users on Net Neutrality:

The Internet as we know it is facing a serious threat. There's a debate heating up in Washington, DC on something called "net neutrality" – and it's a debate that's so important Google is asking you to get involved. We're asking you to take action to protect Internet freedom.

In the next few days, the House of Representatives is going to vote on a bill that would fundamentally alter the Internet. That bill, and one that may come up for a key vote in the Senate in the next few weeks, would give the big phone and cable companies the power to pick and choose what you will be able to see and do on the Internet.

Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody – no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional – has equal access. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build a two-tiered system and block the on-ramps for those who can't pay.

Creativity, innovation and a free and open marketplace are all at stake in this fight. Please call your representative (202-224-3121) and let your voice be heard.

Thanks for your time, your concern and your support.

Eric Schmidt
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