Attacking Net Neutrality Once Again
Last week, Verizon, the telephone giant, went to court to accuse the Federal Communications Commission of "overstepping its authority" and reverse the authority's over-step. It's a legal wrangle that, bottled and distributed, would be a safe substitute for sleeping pills.
Lurking behind the nearly unintelligible and ridiculously referential courtroom arguments, however, is a clear picture of the difference between the corporate vision of the Internet's future and the way the rest of us want it. At this point, corporations are pouring resources into imposing their vision of the Internet and, if they do, there won't be an Internet as we know it.
This is the debate around net neutrality, one of those terms everyone's heard but most of us don't really completely understand.
In a nutshell, the battle is over the use of "broadband", the faster Internet service that is the norm in many places in this country and soon will be nationwide. With broadband you can access just about anything that anyone can post on the Internet in close to real-time and its potential for ever-increasing speed makes it the track on which the train of technological innovation travels. Enter the corporations.
Major telecommunications companies (like Verizon and Comcast) say they should be able to charge you more money for being able to access certain kinds of content through their broadband connections and are pushing for the right to "scale" their systems with different prices for different levels of access. It's sort of like cable television: you rent the cable hook-up (and pay for it monthly) and the company gives you access to certain channels. If you want to watch the latest movies or sports or other "interest specific" channels, you pay an additional monthly fee for a "package" that includes those channels.
The Internet currently operates differently. You pay for your hook-up and access anything you want. True enough, some websites charge you for content but it's the website that's doing that. You may not be able to access the content of a website but you can get to it. That is "net neutrality"; it means everyone has the same level of access on the Internet. It's "neutral".
That, in fact, is the very purpose of the Internet and so Internet activists have always been fierce in defending it. Part of the problem is that, technologically, if a company has the power to block certain content (like movies), it has the power to block any content (like your website) and that's a power Internet activists don't want us to give up.
That resistance makes sense. But in the legalese-weighted world of regulation, simple logic doesn't always prevail. So the argument on "net neutrality" has become mired in a battle over a series of regulations and decisions that confuse more than clarify.