There are several stories today that are talking about a new FCC net neutrality proposal that will be coming out tomorrow. If the sources of the stories are accurate we are witnessing another nail in the coffin of the free and open Internet.
People in power (mostly politicians and large corporations) like the things that keep them in power and don’t like things they can’t control. The Internet and the World Wide Web are two of them.
The Internet allows the free flow of information from network to network and the Web is a front end that makes using the Internet easy peasy for us normal people. These simple and cheap tools can be used by anyone with a connected computer. That means regardless of means as long as you can physically get yourself to your local library or any other publicly connected computer you too can start a blog, open a web store that sells a product, start a service for some unfilled niche, or get a high level education.
Government and large corporations have been trying to put up road blocks to this since they saw what happened to the music industry when it refused to change with the times. Digital music files proliferated across the Internet threatening the life blood of record labels. Instead of embracing the new technology and selling us more music at lower prices they started taking legal action against sites like Napster and against the people who used it. Imagine how the music industry could have benefited if it had changed its model to selling albums for $2.00 or $3.00 and launching all-can-eat subscriptions. We’re almost there now but it has taken almost 15 years to get to this point.
A major road block that is being proposed that will severely stifle free speech is the proposal to define a bonafide journalist. This “media shield law” will shield the media (major TV and cable networks and large news organizations) from the surge of competition that has come from the Internet and the Web. All the current sites you read now will be grandfathered in but what about the next drudgereport.com? That won’t be possible because you won’t be able to be defined as a “bonafide journalist” unless you get hired by one of the existing large news organizations. A person with a point of view posting links and writing about current events that he/she finds important could result in hefty fines and penalties for not being “bonafide”. We already have a law in place that protects ANYONE reporting news and that’s the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The latest is the battle over what’s called net neutrality. The reports coming out today from the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and many others say that the FCC will come out with proposed regulations that will allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to sell priority access to companies. This will mean that traffic from places like Netflix or NBC or YouTube may get priority over others if they pay for the guaranteed quality of service. This is particularly bad for anyone looking to start up the next YouTube, TWiT.tv, or ITpro.tv. Those future startups won’t be able to afford the speeds that make using those sites enjoyable. How long will a new venture be able to compete when the user is experiencing long load times for music or video? The user will just move on to something that works.
If the FCC is to regulate the Internet at all it should be to only ensure that no bits are discriminated and that Internet access speeds that we pay for is what we get. Data is data and that goes for whether it’s video, audio, or text. If I am a heavy Netflix user then I should have to pay for the bandwidth that allows a smooth Netflix experience. If I’m a user of mostly sites like Facebook and other social networks then I don’t need huge bandwidth and I can pay for less.
The FCC should not regulate which bits get treated with priority over others. Nor should they get into regulating what they deem to be reasonable costs of access. Who are they to decide what is a reasonable cost? Who are they to decide what is a priority for you or for me?
But it would also allow providers to give preferential treatment to traffic from some content providers, as long as such arrangements are available on “commercially reasonable” terms for all interested content companies. Whether the terms are commercially reasonable would be decided by the FCC on a case-by-case basis.
(Wall Street Journal)
F.C.C. officials defended the proposal, saying the rules would still protect an open Internet because the agency would evaluate on a case-by-case basis whether particular charges by Internet service providers were fair to consumers and allowed for adequate competition.
The providers would have to disclose how they treat all Internet traffic and on what terms they offer more rapid lanes, and would be required to act “in a commercially reasonable manner,” agency officials said. That standard would be fleshed out as the agency seeks public comment.
(New York Times)
The reality is that any competitor that wants to enforce the “commercially reasonable” rule will first have to wade through a slow and expensive legal swamp and, in any case, only the biggest of the big will have the means to sue in the first place. A small site that wants those “commercially reasonable terms?” Forget about it.
Dear tech leaders if we don’t defend net neutrality now it will all come and bite us in the back soon. please do whatever you can
— Om Malik (@om) April 24, 2014
Om Malik tweeted the above tonight. I’m willing to bet many of the “tech leaders” he’s referring to voted for the current administration. The administration headed by the man who said;
What you’ve been seeing is some lobbying that says that the servers and the various portals through which you’re getting information over the Internet should be able to be gatekeepers and to charge different rates to different Web sites…so you could get much better quality from the Fox News site and you’d be getting rotten service from the mom and pop sites, And that I think destroys one of the best things about the Internet–which is that there is this incredible equality there.
(C|net – President Obama circa 2007)
We need to regularly vote our representatives out. When they spend too long in government they get too cozy with the industries they regulate. Obviously President Obama is in his final term so my previous statement doesn’t apply to him, but, it certainly applies to Congress. We also need to hold them accountable for what they say. It’s ridiculous for President Obama to make the campaign speech above and then appoint a wireless industry lobbyist to head the agency he used to lobby. It’s just not right.