20 May On Net Neutrality
The fundamental idea behind net neutrality is that the information we receive online is given equal access to us, that is movies don’t get better access to us than an academic article or a small college’s website. The audiences that certain content can reach is on an even playing field and therefore for the end user, there is no tier of costs to gain access to certain information.
If I want to watch the newest Megashark vs. Mechashark movie on Netflix, or I want to read a blog post on a small community college website in southern Spain, the speed at which I receive this information is equal (of course is varies based on server speed, but ISPs don’t control this). My access to these 1’s and 0’s that make up the internet is the same access that everyone in the world has.
The recent FCC proposal to give a ‘fast lane’ to certain content providers undermines the power of the internet itself to provide equal access to all.
The news tells me that certain corporations who stand to gain from such a policy favor it in order to ‘foster innovation’ and that current rules ‘stifle innovation’.
I believe this statement is true. But it is not the kind of innovation that will benefit every day citizens.
If the proposal become enacted, types of content would be differentiated from others, which could allow ISPs to charge citizens for specific content. I am not a big fan of capitalism in the form that it exists in the United States, and the phrase “let the market decide” has, throughout our history, reduced the opportunities available to underprivileged peoples.
Yes, the FCC proposal will foster innovation. It will foster innovation in that ISPs will be able to target specific users of specific content and adjust what they pay based on “the market”. If the market decides everything, it could spin two ways.
- The information that is in high demand could be added as an ‘additional feature’. Want Streaming video on your internet plan (Netflix, Hulu, BBCiPlayer)? That’s another $10 a month.
- If the demand for information is low, they could also charge for access to information because it is more rare, so you can get it faster. Want access to an open library project in Latvia? Not many people visit that site. It’s cheaper to give you access to Fox news than it would that site. So pay $10 a month for faster access.
This is not the kind of innovation I would like to see.
The scariest part of this proposal is that it allows content providers to essentially pay for a ‘fast lane’ of web traffic to the ISPs, meaning they would pay for easier access to customers. If Netflix wanted to pay an ISP to ensure their content be available at a faster rate, they could do so, and they’ve essentially taken the first step already. But what about the small start-up business that doesn’t have the capital to essentially lobby for access to potential customers? They will be left to their own devices, and new and innovative ideas that surge from the lower classes, smaller companies and grassroots online communities will be left with slower access to web users, potentially being lost in the process.
The concentration of power and wealth cannot influence the internet, and through this proposal it would. We cannot allow that to happen.
Imagine for a moment an analogy between equal access to health care and equal access to information.
Access to health care is paid for at a tier-based level, based on what you want covered. If you worked and your employer provided health care, or you paid for it yourself, you would choose from levels of coverage, based on deductible, co-pays and coverage for specific ailments. You pay less for ‘catastrophic insurance’ and much more for insurance that covers preventative care and the need for ongoing conditions.
This is all based on what you can afford, or if you’re lucky, what your employer can afford. Unemployed and with a chronic respiratory condition? You’ll need to pay more than a healthy employed person would. The market dictates it. It is a system that forgets the poor and in need.
Now, translate this to the transmission of information. Unfortunately, we are a society that values spectacle over science, social science and academia and this is only increasingly so. If the proposal goes through, information will become tiered. Spectacle will get the fast lane because the companies that provide it can afford to pay for it based on market demand. Education will not, because since 2008 funding has been cut and cut and cut. For those trying to gain access to an education, trying to better themselves, trying to lift themselves up to a higher socioeconomic status, this proposal will hurt them most of all because the information they need could be slowed, and potentially made out of reach all based on the need to provide spectacle for the rest of the population.
This is why net neutrality is essential to allow every citizen the chance for a happy and successful life. To learn how to better oneself, especially those underprivileged in our society, access to information must be equal for all. Online courses from that small community college must be provided at the same speed and access as the latest episode of your favorite hospital drama. Equal access to information should not be surrendered to a free market system, the same system that treats health and education as a privilege, not a right.
The internet must be left alone. We cannot allow the flow of information that belongs to everyone to be under the control of a select few. There has always been a trend in America of increasing the concentration of power and wealth. The only people this benefits are those in positions of power and wealth. It does nothing for the rest of us.
“It is my firm belief that the ultimate test of our worth as a democratic nation is how we treat our most disadvantage and vulnerable.” — Sir William Deane
“To everything there is a season. Yes. A time to break down, and a time to build up. Yes. A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”