Happy Birthday to the World Wide Web!
Its founders might tell you that the current internet isn’t exactly what they expected or intended it to be, but as the African proverb says: It takes 55.1% of the planet to raise a child.
This offspring of humanity is an ever-growing and evolving thing. Both taking cues from us, and helping to dictate much of our lives. While there are varying degrees of grace and discord, joining the Internet Debate Club allows everyone the freedom to share ideas, thoughts, and values.
Freedom Brings Us to Net Neutrality.
Just to recap, Net Neutrally is the idea that all internet communication must be treated equally. ISP’s are not allowed to discriminate or charge differently based on user, content, website, platform, application, type of equipment, or method of communication. They’re also not allowed to intentionally block, or throttle specific online content.
In the US, the idea is hotly contested. In countries such as India and Canada, net neutrality is supported. India having some of the strictest laws in the world. Personally, I support the initiative because it allows for a freer exchange of ideas. Regardless of the details of the argument, of which there are many, society is simply culturally richer for having more voices.
80 Year Old Protections
In the US, net neutrality was protected in a roundabout way by the Communication Act of 1934. This act stated telecommunications companies were required to treat all telephone systems equally. When the internet was born through horrid noises of modems using telephone lines, that proccess was beset by the law. As broadband (Roadrunner, FIOS, etc.) developed and phone lines were less relied upon, classification of the data transmission became a bit murkier. Under the Bush and Obama administrations, the FCC held that ISP’s were to be treated as Title II common carriers and subjected to the 1934 law as such. The Trump administration rolled back many net neutrality rules, and reclassified ISPs as Title I information services. Title I companies not being subjected to equal treatment.
Worth noting that even before 2017 (when the FCC made its ruling), companies were introducing policies that violated their Title II classifications. You’ve seen commercials for this by some cellular phone companies. They advertised the metered data connections would be free from charges for specific sites such as YouTube. This was a direct violation to what the FCC was supposed to enforce as a common carrier service.
Why Does That Matter?
“Isn’t it great that I don’t have to pay for data while watching YouTube?”
Frankly, I couldn’t agree more. You shouldn’t have to care. You shouldn’t have to pay for data at all, but that’s a different post entirely. The problem with allowing discounted data for YouTube, but not another company (Daily Motion, for example) is the competition.
YouTube, being an established service/company, grosses a lunatic amount of money annually. Smaller competitors who may or may not have a more advanced way of delivering similar content, simply can’t compete financially. Opening the door to less-restricted access to specific websites unevens the playing field. The FCC redefinition gives telecommunication companies the greenlight to accept payment in return for offering preference to specific websites. For example, you want to watch a video. Are you going to choose the service that loads normally, or the one that is artificially configured to be slower?
The argument goes that not only does this sponsoring stifle choice, but it also hinders technological growth and innovation. In the same way Betamax was crushed by the inferior VHS (well, not the exact same way… that’s a racier story), the YouTubes of the world can continue to dominate simply because their coffers are full and they can pay to be on top. They may not necessarily offer the best service/content/experience. You, as the consumer of said content, would suffer the consequences of a lesser service.
Not Everyone Agrees
There are counter-arguments that discuss the internet as an already-uneven playing field. Larger companies who can afford more advanced technology on the backend (better servers, bandwidth services, etc.) are simply delivering the content, regardless of the consumption, at an advantage. The logic goes that content from a well-funded website is of supposed higher quality. This content is delivered as a higher price from the company to Google, but delivered equally as other content from Google to you. This rationale argues the higher-investment return value by the company doesn’t get realized because that content does not get preferential treatment. Future investments are decreased, and you as the consumer of said content, would suffer the consequences of a lesser service.
There’s More To Know
I’m not commenting on the viability of the counter-arguments, but I would be remiss to ignore them. There is validity to all opposing views, but I’ll leave you to decide for yourself. I’d also warn that this is a very high-level view. The implications of how content is delivered, by whom, at what cost, and who should fund it are wide ranging.
This is a complete exploration in the same way Brexit is a minor fencing dispute.
Whatever your opinion on net neutrality, there’s no denying the world wide web an important part of society. It’s out of its late twenties and looking to possibly settle down. It won’t ghost you like old high school friends. The internet is part of your life. If you rely on it the way that most Americans do, net neutrality might be something of import to you.
Personally, I’m excited to see what the online mid-life crisis looks like.
Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday dear Internet, Happy Birthday to You!
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