Long Live Net Neutrality

by Marc Majers

Since the beginning of man, technology has continued to drive the world to the next level. As time marches on, the modes of communication have slowly advanced before our naked eye, but communication did not change as drastically as it did with the introduction of the Internet. The World Wide Web has transformed all known forms of communication rolling them into a new one. Americans are beginning to take the Internet for granted, so much that the economy, culture and politics would significantly halt if the web did not exist. The large media conglomerates recently approached Congress to change the model of the Internet and limit consumer access. If this new model were adopted, the Internet would be crippled because no longer having complete access is just as detrimental to the communication medium as if not being in existence at all.

In communications history, speech was a major technological advancement that radically changed the world. We could not imagine our lives without it. The act of being able to formulate your thoughts into words significantly fostered the advancement of communications and led to the advent of many other communication mediums. We now take speech for granted as we take for granted other communication mediums like telephone, books, television, radio, newspaper and even direct mail. We get so used to our technology we take it for granted, until it is not there. The power outage event that occurred during the summer of 2003 across the Midwest was a portrait of how immobilized life can be without technology.

If you think about it, technology has advanced in the last thirty years but not as drastically as we may think with the exception of the Internet. Book and magazine sales are still being produced at nominal levels. Television has more channels and more choice. The telephone that used to be fixed to the wall is now mobile. Radio has increased to offer high-definition bands and satellite. Newspapers are less prevalent, but their audience is more targeted for advertisers. Direct mail has declined, but package delivery has increased due to Internet sales. Thus, communication options have increased throughout time and we have incorporated them into our lives, giving us more choice, better quality and more versatility. The Internet is the latest medium that was introduced in the 1960s and rose to popularity in the early 1990s taking communications to the next level.

Think of the Internet as one big book that combines all the old media technology into one medium while at the same time creating new interactivity. The web has “web pages” and “bookmarks” and offers instant community through email. The Internet was founded on the principle that you can access any website at any time.

The Internet has succeeded because your Internet Source Provider (ISP) gives you total access to any website. You have to pay a fee to your ISP to connect you, but once you are on the network you can surf wherever you please. This is called network neutrality or net neutrality. According to Wikipedia, “Net Neutrality ensures that all users can access the content or run the applications and devices of their choice. With Net Neutrality, the network’s only job is to move data — not choose which data to privilege with higher quality service. Net Neutrality prevents the companies that control the wires from discriminating against content based on its source or ownership.”

If each of your ISPs limits their customers to their network, you would only be able to see what is on your network. For example, if you signed up with Yahoo, you would be limited to their top twenty websites like eBay, Google, Gap, etc… and you could not access a website outside their network. An analogy would be cable channels, if you buy a standard package, you only can watch a certain amount of channels. The Internet as we know it today would be fractured.

The top six media conglomerates want to be Internet gatekeepers and decide which websites you see and how fast they download. They are looking out for their best interests and want to guarantee quick delivery of their information. They want to force their content, such as search engines, and slow down or eliminate their competitor’s content. You could no longer build niche communities, enable free trade and exchange diverse information. According to Tim Bernes-Lee, the Director of The World Wide Web Consortium, “Internet neutrality is the reason why economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech have excelled online.”

The Internet has always been driven by innovation. Web sites and services succeed or fail based on their prerogative. Without Net Neutrality, corporate decision makers will tell us what to access. Small business owners will be hard to find because they will be unable to benefit from the Internet that would allow them to compete directly with big corporations. The free exchange of information allows innovators the ability to cheaply create a start-up venture without facing many hurdles. Big corporations will push entrepreneurs out of the market without free exchange.

Internet access must remain to be neutral. If each ISP limits Internet access, then the long reach and sheer power of the Internet would cease to exist. On the Internet, consumers are in control and make the decisions. There is no middleman. Our human nature is to take for granted our communication mediums. We must no longer take for granted Net Neutrality. Write your local Congressman and tell your friends that your Internet choice and service could be limited without Net Neutrality. Do not let corporations limit what and where you can go on the Internet.

Check out http://www.eff.org for more information.

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