Net Neutrality one of those cleverly taken positions that given its title, seems obviously right. That is, before I even new what Net Neutrality was, I assumed it was good, and approached the subject with the attitude that someone needed a damn good reason to convince me why the net should be un-neutral, and not the other way around. The implications of net neutrality (just the title itself) are that no one controls it, everyone has access, it favors no one, all sentiments that are very American in nature and distinguish us from such freedom-devoid lands as say China where the net is controlled.
It turned out, to my surprise, that Net Neutrality is not wholly the question of government control or censorship but actually a very complex principle guiding the governance of treatment of all content on the internet. Dealing with questions like whether or what can be preferred material on the internet, or who could be responsible for making preferred material possible.
Network Neutrality (NN) holds that all content is treated equally. This is evocative of the famous phrase “all men are created equal”. This sounds American. So far I’m for NN.
Unfortunately, things are complicated a bit because NN also prevents companies from making certain logcail business decisions. A service provider cannot take money from a content provider to make that content move faster than the rest, according to NN. This seems to contradict Capitalism, which is also very American. Now I am bemused.
Ultimately the argument is over whether NN or non-NN would make us more money, not which is more American (though there is an argument to be made over the difference between the two). But rather than repeat the arguments for both sides here, I’d like to belabor one point a point made eloquently by either Zittrain or Lessig on the Berkman radio show (I dont know which voice was which).
The thought is that whether NN or good or not, it is very dangerous to move forward with our economy without a principle of NN established. Without NN enshrined as a guiding principle, businesses will develop entirely on the promise that there will not be neutrality. Once these businesses get big and rich and powerful and have lots of money and spend millions of dollars on lobbyists and then effectively control the government and consequently the “independent” FCC, it will be impossible to go back to NN. In other words, as long as NN is the guiding principle, we can experiment with non-NN but it is impossible to go the other way.
Look at everything comcast owns!
Another thought: Verizon and AT&T together have 2/3rds of the wireless market (source).
Should any of these market-dominating forces profit from non-NN, as Zittrain and Lessig point out, they will also be willing to spend the value of their profits on fighting for non-NN. For companies as big as these, that’s more money than our weak-willed lawmakers can reasonably be asked to resist, is it not?
Indeed, in its joint proposal with Google, Verizon has stated that it supports non-NN in the wireless world. While this proposal seems in many senses magnanimous, it allows for exactly the state that damns us: entrenching non-NN as an interest of the largest companies in country.
I dont know if NN is right. Additionally, NN is not a black and white issue, some compromises seem less offensive then others (like when data congestion does occur, something has to be preferred). But I do know that I don’t like the idea that our net policy will encourage large corporations to fight for a privileged use of the Net. So Let’s intend to keep the net neutral and see what happens.