Net Neutrality and Active Citizenship
October 26, 2010
Net neutrality isn’t a new argument, and neither was this PSA Google put out about the issue. However, it is important to remember how little has been actually been achieved.
Not long ago, it was a battle of Google against Verizon, AT&T and the other big network companies. It seemed that just maybe, in this instance, the actual people could win, thanks to having Google’s protection and support. We were hopeful, inspired, and felt safe. In August of this year, Google changed its tune by creating an agreement with Verizon that underhandedly gives over control of the internet to the major corporations, called the Verizon-Google Legislative Framework Proposal. It’s painfully vague with enough loopholes to make it utterly inefficient. For example, on discrimination:
Non-Discrimination Requirement: In providing broadband Internet access service, a provider would be prohibited from engaging in undue discrimination against any lawful Internet content, application, or service in a manner that causes meaningful harm to competition or to users. Prioritization of Internet traffic would be presumed inconsistent with the non-discrimination standard, but the presumption could be rebutted.
The whole article is along this grain: that everything will be free and open but they can choose at their own discretion when they don’t want it to be free and open to everyone. The Huffington Post summarized the document most poignantly:
This is the proverbial toll road on the information superhighway, a fast lane reserved for the select few, while the rest of us are stuck on the cyber-equivalent of a winding dirt road.
What is disappointing is how understated the arguments for and against net neutrality actually are. It has become an almost taboo trigger word, a hot button for tech-minded folks but seemingly untouchable and uninteresting for the average internet user. Whether you choose to be for or against net neutrality, without education on the topic we’re unable to actually make any decision on an incredibly important topic. Whether you use the internet for research, pleasure, or business, this argument effects you more than most people realize.
As we wait for the FCC to either hold their ground or bow to the will of the major corporations, make a personal decision, and be part of a solution. As someone who lives and works on the internet, I value the internet as a manifest of American ingenuity and entrepreneurship. In August John Stewart of the Daily Show asked Google to stand up for their initial promise to “not be evil” and embrace all the new Amazons and Googles as they emerge, instead of fearing them. In a technological horizon, competition will be what propels us forward, assuming we have the freedom to do so. MC Seigler of TechCrunch agrees:
Net neutrality is great, but the FCC needs to do exactly what the cable and phone companies don’t want them to do: create more competition in the market. If there’s true competition, net neutrality would be less of an issue because people would just switch to a different provider if the one they’re on tries to block certain sites, or throttles others. Unfortunately, right now, consumers can’t do that because ISPs have monopolies in many areas of the country.
We’ve been in a bit of a lull waiting for the FCC to step up the plate. The glimmer of hope in this debate is that Google and Verizon don’t make the laws, they just propose them. There is still opportunity for us to voice our thoughts on the issue and be more active citizens in a digital age.