BEDA #15: My Research Paper

Posted on April 16, 2010

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So! Here it is, if anyone is interested, and if you’re not, I really don’t blame you. I wouldn’t want to read a 1250 word essay about Net neutrality, hell, writing the damn thing nearly killed me. Although if anyone wanted to read it and give me any suggestions or corrections, I’ll be turning it in at 1:00 tomorrow, so you have until then. Also, stay tuned for the exciting story that takes you behind the scenes of how this essay was written!

Is Our Internet at Risk?

All eyes have been on Chinese computers recently, with Google’s recent withdraw from the country. Google refused to censor its results to the specifications of the Chinese government, instead opting to refuse to provide services in China entirely. Here in the U.S. however, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is lamenting its own loss against what could ultimately lead to a different kind of Internet censorship. On April 6, 2010, U.S. courts ruled against the FCC’s attempts to turn Net neutrality into official policy. Internet access is a vital source of information in this country, and the principle of Net neutrality should be enforced legally, in order to ensure that all Internet users have access to everything the Internet has to offer.

So what is Net neutrality? It can be a difficult concept to understand and define, however, one article did a fairly cohesive job, stating that it is “the principle that Internet users should be able to access any web content or use any applications, without restrictions or limitations from their Internet service provider” (Joch 14). Currently, the principle of Net neutrality is not actual policy; it is just an ideal the FCC tries to maintain on the Internet, and tried to enforce with the recent court case, but lost. With the court’s failure to uphold the principle of Net neutrality, this means that Internet service providers (ISPs) can slow down access to some Internet sites, block access to others, and demand payment from some sites in order to speed up content accessed from that site (Wyatt). Imagine “an express lane on the information superhighway” (Baumann) for those websites that can afford to pay for preferential treatment. If left unhindered, this practice could exponentially increase until ISPs are controlling everything we see online. The most recent case having to do with Net neutrality was brought to courts after the major ISP, Comcast, claimed the right to slow down access to a site called BitTorrent (Wyatt). BitTorrent is a file-sharing site notoriously known as a source for users to share pirated movies and other illegal content. The FCC attempted to penalize Comcast, and lost the case. Without legal sanctions to stop them, the influence of ISPs over the actual web content delivered to users can run rampant and increase until ISPs are effectively censoring the internet in this country.

Opponents of establishing Net neutrality as law argue that ISPs won’t censor Internet content, for fear of customers switching to a different company (“A Court”). However, ISPs are under no obligation to make public the fact that they do censor content, “and consumers may not understand when discrimination occurs” (Roberts 767). This is evident in the case of Comcast, in which almost no Comcast customers were aware of the situation until it had been made public by a third party. The subtle favoritism of one site over another, such as how long each site takes to load, cannot always be easily detected. Additionally, the Internet is a useful tool for researching companies that provide the fastest services, the lowest prices, etc. If ISPs can choose what content they want to provide to users, they can choose to not deliver any information on their competitors; “for example, if AT&T is the ISP, the Internet user might not be able to access Sprint or Verizon’s website at a high speed or as fast as other websites” (Roberts 766). Although the argument for free market and competition seems reasonable, it has a number of issues.

The defense that many major ISPs are using is the argument that enforcing Net neutrality would impede their First Amendment right’s to free speech (Baumann). While the First Amendment does guarantee freedom of speech to businesses (Baumann), this idea does not apply to Net neutrality. The new policies would not be regulating how the ISP runs its business, but merely stating that they cannot favor certain content on the Internet.

Another argument against Net neutrality is that government should keep out of Internet service, and increasing government regulation may discourage the growth of this ever-growing and evolving industry (“A Court”). In this particular case, however, because the restrictions would actually be to promote freedom and equal access to all Internet users, government regulation would encourage development and openness, as well as give all companies an equal opportunity to grow. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, “Net neutrality advocates want to regulate to deregulate” (Roberts 774). The current system is wide-open to the formation of online monopolies, as wealthy websites can pay ISPs to speed-up access to their content. This makes the large companies grow larger and larger, while the smaller online companies and content producers that are just starting out get crowded out and restrained into failure. Government interference would allow the Internet to remain free.

One could raise objections that limiting ISPs may impede their efforts to eliminate piracy, or illegal sharing of copyrighted materials, and could site Comcast’s constraints on BitTorrent as an example. However, peer-to-peer file sharing sites are not illegal, and ISPs have no right to limit some user’s access to such resources just because others are exploiting them. There are a variety of other ways in which ISPs can eradicate illegal file sharing, and forcing them to treat all legal sites equally should not hamper this. Also, the current rules that the FCC is proposing to enact Net neutrality include expressed privileges “that would give Internet providers latitude to fight copyright infringement” (“Stemming”).

Opponents of Net neutrality also “dismiss the notion that the lack of additional Internet controls is endangering society” (Joch 14). Individuals arguing this either fail to understand the Internet’s increasing role in society, or lack the foresight to see where out-of-control ISP control of the Internet could lead. The Internet provides easy access to critical information, as well as exposes users to a variety of opinions. Exposure to these opinions helps users develop their own ideas, and the Internet provides a forum for discussing and expressing these ideas. An informed public with a variety of fully formed opinions is a vital aspect of a healthy democracy. Now, with Net neutrality no longer an undeniable right, ISPs will have the ability to block or slow content that they don’t approve of. Ultimately, this puts all the content of the Internet, and the ability to access it, in the hands of multi-million dollar corporations. With Net neutrality no longer guaranteed by the FCC, in the future the public’s vote may not reflect the ideals of the citizens as much as those of Comcast, or Verizon, or any other ISP that censors it Internet.

When users log on, they should not have to worry if the company providing access is altering the Internet they are accessing.  They should not have to worry that the sites they want to visit are being purposefully slowed down in an attempt to steer them to other places. They should not have to worry that their blog is being overlooked in favor of larger and richer websites. Right now, these are all very real dangers that could become a reality if ISPs are left unchecked. Net neutrality will not overregulate the Internet, nor will it impose strict rules on any ISP. All it will do is ensure that the Internet remains free and open to any user, and to any content producer. If Net neutrality is enacted into law, it will ensure that the Internet will remain to be used for how it was intended, for use by all, equally, without censorship or discrimination.

Works Cited

“A court wisely rules on Net neutrality, FCC, Comcast. ” The Christian Science Monitor 7  Apr. 2010, ProQuest Newsstand, ProQuest. Web.  15 Apr. 2010

Baumann, M.. “Net Neutrality: The Debate Rages On. ” Information Today 1 Mar. 2010: ABI/INFORM Global, ProQuest. Web.  16 Apr. 2010

Joch, Alan. “Debating Net Neutrality.” Communications of the ACM52.10 (2009):             14. Factiva.com. Web. 9 Apr. 2010.

Roberts, Christopher E.. “Can I Still Google My Yahoo? Reframing the Net Neutrality Debate — Why Legislation Actually Means Deregulation.” UMKC Law Review77.3 (2009): 765-87. OmniFile Full Text Mega. Web. 15 Apr. 2010

“Stemming the Tide.” Variety417.8 (2010): 1, 34. OmniFile Full Text Mega. Web. 15 Apr. 2010.

Wyatt, Edward. “U.S. Court Curbs F.C.C. Authority on Web Traffic.”The New York Times 7 Apr. 2010, New York ed., A1 sec. The New York Times. The New York Times         Company, 6 Apr. 2010. Web. 9 Apr. 2010.

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