Friday, October 23, 2009

The Network Neutrality Debate: Good or Evil?

So for a long time now there has been a bill around in congress about Network Neutrality. Some people like it, some people don’t, others just don’t care. But who’s really looked into it? I mean, it sounds good. It sounds like it could help everyone out, right? It’s keeping the Internet neutral, right?

Well, for those of you who haven’t looked into Net Neutrality, its time you hear about it. Let’s look at the up side of this debate. The original idea was great: Ensure that all traffic on the Internet was treated equally by all Internet Service Providers. Net Neutrality is supposed to mean no discrimination and tries to prevent Internet Service Providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination. That sounds good, right? I like this original idea, but as with many ideas that get turned into legislation, the point gets missed and in the case of this idea, the point is being completely smothered.

Now that the government has its hands on it, Net Neutrality will go the way of all the other bills that have gone through congress, adding pork at every congressman along the way. Net Neutrality line items state that every citizen in the US should be given free broadband Internet access. The proponents of this bill state that if there is only one provider to give Internet access that they can’t block content or stop the end user from getting to the site they want to view so the government should intervene. The proponents of this bill are in the mindset that if government can control this the ISPs won’t be able to implement a tiered Internet access model.

Others say that if Net Neutrality isn’t passed, companies will start to charge more to get to certain content on the Internet or that Internet Service Providers (ISP) can sign agreements with certain companies to give special access to that company’s website. For instance, if I went to Google, but my ISP signed a contract with Yahoo or Microsoft I wouldn’t be able to get to Google or the speed would be so slow I would have to use something else to search the Internet. People think that without Net Neutrality ISPs can tax content providers for using the backbone of the Internet to move data, or discriminate in favor of certain traffic, or block access to certain sites all together. Again, let me stress how this original idea makes complete sense and how much I agree with it at this point.

With the amount of service providers out there, the scenarios mentioned earlier (blocking content and discrimination of data) would never happen because if it did, people would just switch to another provider. Look at it this way, the Internet, in its current setup, has been operated for over 20 years without regulation or government interference. Net Neutrality protections have existed for the entire history of the Internet. Additionally, since its conception and the start of its mainstream use, the government has wanted to tax the usage of the Internet. Back at the beginning of the Internet a group of congressmen banded together and said, “No” to taxing Internet usage. But now with the government is trying to grab power from all over, and congress feels that it should control, monitor, and secure the Internet as well.

And it doesn’t stop there; if Net Neutrality goes through, the government will not only do a power grab over the Internet, but include wireless phone companies too since they are also part of digital communications. The FCC would basically be able to moderate and know everything that is being transferred over the Internet or wireless phones. Security and Privacy would be thrown out the window in this scenario. The Internet has been the source of the highest levels of freedom the world has ever known. There have never been any restrictions on speech, religion, or information on the Internet (some sites have their own policies, but you can always find information out there somewhere).

Aside from the Internet being a place for freedom, think about what will happen when the government steps in and tries to regulate and monitor it. Think about anything the government tries to run; it gets clouded in paperwork and the service is degraded to a level no one wants. The phone companies are a prime example of this, the government stepped in at the state and federal level and the prices skyrocketed. But the market innovated coming up with VoIP and free phone servers that utilize the Internet. The free market is responsible for having such a vast, open set of connected networks that make up the Internet; it would do nothing but hurt companies that try to impede this open communication of all types of content.

So now for some added truth on this; Net Neutrality is going to essentially going to cause these things to happen, just from a different angle. Now that H.R. 3458 has been introduced and federal stimulus money has been part of the deal, the government is going to pork the bill up so much you won’t even recognize it right before it is voted on.

Let’s put it in perspective: Over the last 3 or 4 years the telecommunications industry has pumped over 100 billion dollars into the data backbone and it has resulted in blazing fast speeds, lower price per kilobyte of bandwidth, and provided a higher level of competition. Now think about this: the government stimulus package invested 7.2 billion dollars in to this Net Neutrality bill and they call that “just a down payment” according to the diversity czar Mark Lloyd. His opinion is that managing the media, control of it by the state, can help level the playing field for those that aren’t fortunate enough to get all the news. Now why would you want to pay for Net Neutrality when you already pay for the Internet? Just with the thought of the government stepping in the price has already gone up in the form of taxes.

Almost everyone pays for the Internet in some way, either in your cell phone bill, your cable bill, your land line phone bill, and your VoIP phone (in some cases). All this money pays to keep the Internet up and running. When you purchase Internet access you are expecting a certain level of quality and service from the provider you are paying; be it AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, Time Warner, Comcast, just to name a few. Basically your monthly bill on these services goes to keeping the Internet up and running (I say this because basically everything is transmitted digitally).

Mark Lloyd, Chief Diversity Czar of the Federal Communications Commission said, “It should be clear by now that my focus here is not freedom of speech or the press. This freedom is all too often an exaggeration. At the very least blind references to freedom of speech or press serves as a distraction from the critical examination of other communication policies. The purpose of free speech is warped to protect global corporations and block rules [by the government], fines, and regulations that would promote democratic governance.”

This statement is coming from a guy who is a devoted liberal progressive (AKA Marxist) looking to stifle your freedom of speech. Mark Lloyd, a disciple of Saul Alinsky and fan of Hugo Chavez, wants to destroy talk radio and says free speech is a distraction. Mark Lloyd also says Venezuela is an example we should follow and he feels that the government should control all media outlets. His statements also want to tax media outlets equal to that of their total operating cost to help subsidize public media. If he is willing to do that with media outlets, what is he willing to do with censoring the Internet?

Government's first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives. It is not to tax you for your freedoms, it is not to regulate the things you do in life, and it is not the goal for government to interfere with every aspect of the country. If the government takes control of the Internet the way they are planning in this Network Neutrality bill, I promise you that the quality and value of the Internet will degrade and it will be the start of the end of the Internet as we know it.

Throughout the bill there are statements like, “unfettered access,” “lawful usage, devices and services,” “severely harmed,” “economic interest,” and “prevention of unwanted content.” The problem with this is that they never state who will be monitoring this or setting the standards on the content, bandwidth, and what they consider to be lawful.

Ronald Reagan once famously said, "Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."

Let’s keep the Internet free and open as it was designed. And let’s also keep Net Neutrality exactly how it was designed; to protect the freedoms of the Internet.

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