I’ve seen a couple articles today where the Republicans are trying to politicize the concept of network neutrality, comparing it in one case to “a Fairness Doctrine for the Internet“.
Well, it’s not that. And I could spend several paragraphs excoriating Republicans for yet-another weak attempt to convince uninformed voters that Obama’s going to [fill-in-the-blank], but I won’t. Instead, I will simply present you with What Net Neutrality Is, and What Net Neutrality Isn’t.
Net Neutrality IS…
* A policy concept that would prevent ISPs from building one net for the haves, and another for the have-nots: Big ISPs, such as AT&T and TimeWarner, would very much like to charge “premiums” both to subscribers and to individual website owners, for “preferred” access to their subscriber base, thus splitting the internet into tiers the way cable television service is delivered today.
In short, this turns the existing paradigm of the Internet –a cloud where all information from all perspectives is available all the time– into a pay-for-play concept where the big-money players get the lion’s share of the eyeballs, and devil take the hindmost.
* A means of preventing bandwidth providers from triple or quadruple charging: You see, YOU already pay for access to the internet to read this article, and I already pay for hosting to serve it to you. There’s presently no need for an additional “tier” of middleman money shakedowns to make that connection. The present internet treats ALL information as being inherently equal; it doesn’t prioritize my traffic over your own, regardless of the ideology or editorial value.
What Net Neutrality ISN’T….
* A means of curtailing minority or opposition opinions: Under the present system, both Ann Coulter and Michael Moore can deliver their opinions without restriction, again, because their readers pay for access, and they pay for hosting. Anyone who would insinuate that network providers have an inherent right to oversell their bandwidth in order to slow some traffic down while speeding up the “paying” traffic is missing the point.
* An affront to corporations’ property rights and/or a “socialistic” swipe against commerce rights: Firstly, it’s important to bear in mind that the Telecom Industry has enjoyed significant tax breaks and incentives to build out broadband networks….that still do not exist in their entirety.
So, Ma Bell is riding high already; it’s getting money from three directions: Uncle Sam, people like you, and people like me. In fact, in view of those generous public subsidies, they OWE US more than they have delivered!
But let’s ignore that for a moment: Do telephone companies presently have the right to sell one phone number to two different people? With the one paying “extra” having priority rights over the one who pays less? No, that’s not how it works at all. But that’s what they want to do with the internet.
Saying that Network Neutrality is an affront to bandwidth providers’ property rights is akin to saying that toll-road operators have an inherent right to bill motorists for lanes that do not actually exist, and then bar drivers that refuse to pay a premium from taking that road at all. (And yet again, remember that Ma Bell is already being paid on BOTH sides of the transaction AS IT IS.)
So, network neutrality –in the original sense of the term, and not the politicized version that is emerging– would simply keep the internet as it is, a free and open bazaar of information, ideas, and products, open to all that can pony up the relatively modest sums presently required to buy either access or hosting.
So the next time you hear a Republican talk about net neutrality, remember: What they’re really talking about is giving Ma Bell the right to TAX YOUR CONNECTION, and to TAX THE VENDORS, CONTENT PROVIDERS, and WEBSITES YOU CHOOSE to do business with or to read.