Net Neutrality

posted 4/7/10

Losing the internet: judge rules against FCC on internet neutrality

If you are reading this, most likely you understand how important the internet is to 21st Century life. Those of us who are completely at home with the internet on a PC or laptop are just a few years behind; the Prospect is increasingly committed to putting our site up for iPods and cell phones, since more and more of our readers access the site on those devices.

But, all this magic happens over broadband and high-speed internet. The facilities that are the media of our new century are owned by a few people. The "pipes" of the internet belong to the corporations who build, own, lease, or trade the facilities on which our data travels.

Increasingly, they want to capitalize on the infrastructure. On the one hand, the internet should belong to everyone; on the other hand, we need to pay for the services we use.

Until very recently the FCC determined that all internet traffic needs to be treated the same way. However, the giants who own the infrastructure have attacked the authority of the FCC, and a D.C. judge recently agreed with them. Comcast Corporation, the largest provider of cable internet in the U.S., sued the Federal Communications Commission, saying the agency didn’t have the authority to enforce net neutrality.

The decision, if it stands, means providers are free to either charge extra for high speed service, or relegate lower paying users to slower speeds. Indeed, some providers are doing so already.

On the one hand, if these few corporations own the infrastructure to the internet, why shouldn’t they be able to control it?

On the other, we can see there are several reasons why such a resource shouldn’t be parsed out in such a manner.

First, what if Ma Bell, the original Telephone Company, had allowed some customers to have use of the phone as they wanted, but other users could only get on when the phone company allowed it? What if a water company allowed plenty of water to premium payers, but everyday rate-payers only got water certain hours of the day.

Those services are run like that, in developing countries where such services are scarce; even then, it isn’t a very equitable way to distribute resources.

But, those internet resources aren’t scarce at all in the US, and those providers already charge plenty for their services.

When the internet was forming itself, it was a wonderful and dangerous place, like we imagine the Old West to be. The primary concern in those days was government intrusion and censorship. Those concerns of censorship have been realized, not as much by government intervention as by the market. Google has recently had a significant impact on the direction of the internet since it reflexively creates its own market. (For example, the more often a site turns up on Google, the more often it will turn up on Google, a reflexive feature of Google’s search strategies).

Now, internet providers promise to increase those market effects by giving some commercial sites premium loading speeds and accessibility and essentially preventing others from access to the internet.

What was once concern about government involvement on the internet has transformed into the hope that the government is powerful enough to control corporations.

Concerned about net neutrality and internet access? See HERE.

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