Network Neutrality is the concept of preventing Internet Service Providers from restricting the publics’ access to the Internet. Corporate ISPs can restrict their consumers’ access online by slowing down the speed of the internet itself, making the process of accessing the content frustrating and impractical, or straight up blocking the content, preventing the dissemination of any content whatsoever that runs contrary to messages the interests of a particular corporation wish to be spread among the masses.
The notion of unfettered access to consume and produce content on the internet has proved critical in the rise of private independent media outlets and individual bloggers as the 21st century has progressed. The ability to spread content, cheaply and easily, is available only on the Web and has added an innumerable number of valuable opinions to the public discourse.
Unfortunately, Net Neutrality within the United States, the ideal which gave birth to the recent boom experienced by bloggers and independent journalists, is in grave danger. Superficially, the ability of content producers and content consumers to freely access the internet is imperiled by the glaring weaknesses of the Republic’s broadband infrastructure, one that is currently drastically under-regulated.
An article appearing on dailyfinance.com addresses the nation’s inferiority in this area of the digital world. The author, Sam Gustin, is unyielding in his criticism of the current situation, “The U.S. broadband infrastructure–both in terms of speed and coverage–is pathetic and embarrassing.”
In order to back up his remarks, Gustin notes, the United States has the 28th most efficient broadband system among developed countries; placing the Republic beyond much smaller nations that include the Kingdom of Sweden and the Netherlands.
The real issue here is not that the Swedes and Dutch have managed to streamline their Internet service to provide their citizens with more efficient broadband capabilities. More importantly, the decrepit nature of American broadband services is a reflection on how elected officials and private sector executives within the Republic are more than happy to ensure the Internet is not used to its full potential, spreading huge swaths of information among the populace, by the nation’s citizens.
However, if steps are taken to modernize broadband services throughout the States, independent media creators would have even easier access to the ultra-powerful medium of the Internet. Subsequently, the ease at which independent content is consumed would increase; further adding to the national discourse, spreading information and advancing the overall public interest of our society.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of even more direct threats to net neutrality. The Christian Coalition of America, a conservative grassroots organization for Christians and others supporting familial values, pointed out several overt attempts by ISPs to infringe upon net neutrality; in a written statement by the non-profit’s Vice President of Communications, Michelle Combs, to the Congressional Committee on the Judiciary, Task Force on Competition policy and Antitrust Laws in March of 2008.
In her address to Congress, Combs highlighted three different incidents involving prominent phone and cable companies, which should concern American citizens and stir the Federal Communications Commission to pay closer attention to several ISPs.
These incidents included the censoring of text messages to organization members from the pro-choice advocacy group, NARAL, in addition to those of the pro-life Christian Coalition by Verizon Wireless. Additionally, AT&T’s efforts to block the First Amendment rights of Pearl Jam frontman, Eddie Vedder, during a live webcast of a concert, Comcast’s blocking the use of specific file-sharing technology, often used to download a King James Bible, in 2007, and Comcast’s repeated blocking of video distribution applications that compete with the programming of the unscrupulous company in question.
It is clear that many of the Internet Service Providers responsible for providing internet access to a myriad of American citizens have no qualms about infringing upon Net Neutrality, especially when the content in question competes with or is simply not advantageous for the corporation’s bottom line. Further compounding the existing problems regarding the defense of Net Neutrality, is the regulatory agency which should be standing in the way of the media corporations and the current Net Neutrality norms in danger.
In December of 2010 the FCC did an excellent job of providing rules enabling themselves to protect free speech by prohibiting the prioritization of content on wired Internet services; these include internet pathways involving cable and DSL connections. Confusingly, the progressive efforts of the FCC to ensure the independence of wired based internet communication was contradicted in their handling of broadband or wireless online services. Here the FCC left substantial leeway for corporations to block certain applications and services that compete with those offered by the company providing the Internet.
According to the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, this does not bode well for digital free speech and is a fundamental flaw in regulations that should ensure neutrality protections on both wired and wireless Internet services; not just one of the two.
The ACLU holds, “Network neutrality principles are essential to protecting the First Amendment rights of Americans who rely on the Internet as a forum of free speech.”
Net Neutrality is as pertinent to protecting the free speech of citizens on digital platforms in the 21st century as freedom of the press was for the uninhibited dissemination of information during the infant stages of the Republic in the late 18th century.
Throughout all of my blog posts I have attempted to hammer home the idea of the Internet as a forum where one and all can consume and spread information. In order to ensure this forum, one where Americans from all walks of life can opine on and observe global happenings and domestic current events, survives the American government needs to step in decisively.
If the FCC would reclassify broadband Internet access as a “telecommunications service,” as opposed to its current designation as an unregulated “information service,” great strides could be taken to ensure the concept of Net Neutrality does not become a defunct mantra at the expense of citizens throughout the Union.