On Thursday, November 13, I published an article in an attempt to explain what net neutrality is and to explain the general concerns of those who support the implementation of net neutrality rules. After looking at the responses to the article, I have concluded that most people support net neutrality. Who should ultimately be responsible for protecting a free and open Internet is where people disagree.
To clarify, net neutrality is the principle that the Internet should be free and open. That's it, plain and simple. It is the belief that people should be able to access and share information online without interference from a third party -- whether that be the government or corporations.
Rasmussen published a survey in which it asked voters to weigh in on Internet regulations and whether they support the FCC regulating the Internet like it does television and radio -- including the ability to censor the Internet. However, what Rasmussen asked respondents about was not net neutrality.
Once the debate goes from talking about who should ultimately be responsible for protecting a free and open Internet to talking about, say, censorship, we are no longer talking about net neutrality. The debate has changed topics.
Many of the responses on net neutrality can be broken down like this:
- Since government in inherently evil and corrupt, the free market must protect a free and open Internet without regulation or interference from the government or a government agency. Even basic net neutrality regulations are a stepping stone to additional regulations and competition in the marketplace can only thrive in an environment free of regulation.
- Since corporations are inherently evil and corrupt, the government should implement basic regulations that say third parties cannot throttle bandwidth service, implement a tiered system of paid prioritization that would pick winners and losers in the market and limit competition, make sure third parties cannot censor content that is not in the business or political interests of the third party, and then get out of the way.
If the government were to implement any additional regulations on the Internet that would treat the Internet like radio and television, then we are no longer talking about net neutrality. One important thing to take away from the Rasmussen poll is that a clear majority of Americans believe content on the Internet should not be censored and advocates of net neutrality, one way or another, agree with this.
Now, people who say the market should be responsible for maintaining a free and open Internet say customers will hold Internet service providers (ISPs) accountable so they do not throttle bandwidth speeds or censor content. If companies anger customers then those customers will take their business elsewhere -- if they have somewhere else to take it. Some areas throughout the U.S. only have one or two ISPs consumers can do business with.Where I live, for instance, I can pick from Time Warner or AT&T. That is it. There is also the fact that without any form of regulation in place, how free and open the Internet is ultimately comes down to the business interests of these ISPs and people just have to trust that the market will continue to protect an Internet that can be easily and efficiently accessed and remains competitive and a place where startups and small businesses can make a name for themselves.
People who say the government should be responsible for maintaining a free and open Internet say voters can hold the government accountable if it moves on any more regulations than anti-throttling, anti-paid prioritization, and anti-censorship. The problem is the current electoral system puts voters at a disadvantage and favors incumbents and the two dominant parties -- meaning nothing really changes in Washington.
If Congress is slow to update privacy, financial, and communication laws to address how the Internet has become an essential part of daily life, then it is because the Republican and Democratic parties have no interest in making sure these laws are kept up to date. Whether swayed by campaign contributions or partisan agendas, the philosophy in Washington will not likely change under the current system.
The FCC is also an independent agency, which means neither the president nor Congress (without changing current law) can direct it to act one way or another. The agency is headed by a bipartisan group of commissioners appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S Senate, which means it often reflects the do-nothing environment in the nation's capital.
A concern that was expressed about the article I published on Thursday was that is was not an objective look at the subject. Here is an objective truth: No matter who you trust to keep the Internet free and open, neither the market nor the government are putting the interests of citizens ahead of business or partisan interests, respectively.
There will always be a little evil in both corporations and government. Ultimately, it comes down to who people are going to trust more and neither option provides much comfort.
However, the public should have an expectation of one of these two groups to serve their interests and to protect their ability to access and share information online easily and efficiently and be treated equally. One of these groups should put the public ahead of private interests, and acknowledge that the Internet has become an essential part of daily life for the public and make sure our access to the Internet is not hindered by a third party, including itself.
I will give you a hint; this entity is supposed to be by the people and for the people.
Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes / Flickr