Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Net-Neutralitarians?

Most of you already know the gist of the net-neutrality issue, but for those less familiar, net-neutrality is basically the idea that Internet providers should treat all content-providers equally. The Internet providers should be neutral to the content and/or commerce structure of every content-provider when providing service. That’s basically the way the Internet works now.

For example, Skepchick.org and eBay.com and FreakyFarmAnimals.com all receive the same level of service from the various providers.

But there are indications that some telecommunications companies are looking to create a special “high-speed lane” for content-providers that can afford it. In other words, corporations that can afford it.

The concern here is that large companies would gain an advantage in what was once a level playing field. Their sites would load faster than personal blogs and online mom-and-pop shops. They would receive preferential treatment by Internet providers, and after a while, the average mouse jockey would get frustrated and do all of his or her business at the faster more prominent sites. Providers could discriminate based on who pays them most. Or they could even discriminate based on a political point of view. We’re talking about the potential to control the flow of vast amounts of information.

But are these concerns unfounded?

Well, it’s no secret Comcast, which is the nation’s largest cable provider, and NBC/Universal want to merge. And if such a merger takes place, the new giant company could conceivably (and most likely would) charge other cable carriers more for NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, and the 3o plus other cable networks it will own. Should that happen, it’s likely other carriers won’t be able to afford those networks, and the consumer could end up paying more to the behemoth company to have the same complete cable package they already have.

Comcast is also the United States’ largest home Internet service provider. And as more and more television programming is provided through the Internet, other Internet giants such as Verizon and AT&T will have to look toward merging with CBS/Viacom or ABC/Disney.

Some fear we could end up with merely a few megacorporations in control of the flow of information on TV and online.

In fact, just this morning, The Wall Street Journal reported that Verizon and Google are talking about a deal that would blast net-neutrality out of the water. Details on this deal are still trickling in, but it appears it could lead to Google paying Internet-provider Verizon to ensure that its content receives priority as it makes its way to consumers. Such an agreement could eventually lead to higher charges for Internet users.

This issue no doubt has major implications from a consumer standpoint. But some people are also of the opinion that net-neutrality is in fact the most important First Amendment issue of our time.

But what is your take on this subject? Is net-neutrality the most important First Amendment issue of our time? Is it important at all? Is this indicative of the natural evolution of any commercial endeavor? Are there benefits to doing away with neutrality that have been overlooked here? Please show your work. 

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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21 Comments

  1. Until I can freely choose from any broadband ISP i advocate net neutaility. Currently, my choices are limited to cablevision, verizon, or 4g wireless. And I am lucky to have that much choice. Until I can choose, i want net neutrality.

  2. I wouldn’t say it’s the *most* important issue – but it’s right up there. 2nd or 3rd.

    Then again if corporations can shut out competitors they can shut you out to. Or shut off my porn!?!

    So maybe it *is* the most important issue.

  3. The levelling of the playing field is one of the things I adore about the internet. And while a lot of pointless stupidity makes the rounds, the really good stuff gets out there, too. I don’t have to rely on the political bent or mass marketability of an idea to gain access to it anymore. It’s awesome.

    I abandoned radio, cable and newsprint some time ago. I dread the idea of seeing the interwebs morph back into these things.

  4. Net Neutrality is probably inevitable and bad. I mean, is there any law to stop it? And how could you properly enforce it anyway. Say the US places a law, then couldn’t the internet providers move off shore and still do it.
    As much as I hate it, having a user pay for the level of “speed” is more fair, and even then it sucks. But at least its not giving such an unfair advantage to the big corporation over the tiny web biz.

  5. @Sam Ogden: Sorry, I was busy doing my job. But, yeah, there are some aspects I couldn’t care less about. Universal (no really, it is universal) would charge more for their programing. What happens when the king charges the peasants too high a tax? They revolt. If everyone called their CSP and said “no NBC”, then Universal would have to lower their prices.

    But when it comes to controlling the flow of information, I would hate to think that a conservative christian can stop me from checking out the latest gay porn. You may disagree with “Bachelor Afterparty-Groom-to-be gets filled by best man (NSFW), but that doesn’t mean that you can stop me from watching it.

  6. I no longer trust Television media for my news as they are all owned by big corporations. What happens when the Interwebs are owned by them as well?

    What if twitter were owned by Fox? Or if Google sells out to the American Family Foundation?

    I realize these internet services and providers are tempted by outrageous money, but as soon as they sell the sell us all out.

    I’m all for Net Neutrality, but how on earth can it fight against the draw of big money?

  7. I’d say it’s related to the most important First Amendment issue of our time: the First Amendment rights given to corporations. Technically, the Bill of Rights is only meant to protect individuals from government power. However, I think it’s necessary to reconsider framing the rights of the people against corporate power when corporations threaten the very same rights of individuals.

    And I DO consider it a threat to free speech when a few mega-corporations control the flow of information. Getting rid of net neutrality would be another way to do just that: dominate access to information.

    It could be argued that the Bill of Rights is only meant to protect individuals from government powers. In my mind, this is only because the founding fathers couldn’t have foreseen the immense power corporations would have over the rights of individuals. In fact, it’s interrelated. Just look at the Citizens United ruling that allows corporations to give unlimited funding to political broadcasts. Alternatively, just look at the Telecom Act of 1996, which started this whole mess — allowing mass media corporations to grow bigger and bigger, buying each other out. This severely inhibited the fair use of mass media such as tv and radio. Don’t let it seep into the Internet, where it will do even more direct damage to individuals.

    Anyway, I think it’s inevitable that the courts reconsider First Amendment rights in terms of protecting individuals from corporate power the more powerful they get. I worry about the ruling though.

    — Mass communication student headed to law school next year :P

  8. The internet is the single greatest tool humanity has ever created because of the capacity to endlessly transmit knowledge. It is our last best hope, and that is no hyperbole. Knowledge is our only weapon against everything. Net Neutrality is absolutely vital to maintaining open access to that information, for guaranteeing that everyone has equal access to he information they want to see, not just to what your ISP wants you to see.

    In my opinion, all other issues hinge on the ability to learn about them, thus free speech is the single most important right and the single most important value we have. Thus, since the internet is the greatest tool we’ve ever had for speech, Net Neutrality is the single greatest issue humanity has ever faced. And I don’t feel the least bit silly saying that.

  9. @whatbluedot: I couldn’t agree more. Without ‘Net neutrality, you basically have censoring. If they can slow some traffic down because it doesn’t pay the premium price, they can also slow it down because it has an unpopular view.

    If they can slow traffic at all, they can slow it to the point where it is unusable.

    The good news is, this CAN be regulated. The big ISPs can’t “move off shore” because their infrastructure and customers would still be within the country where the regulation was passed.

    The bad news is that in the U.S. at least, our spineless congress has a difficult time passing regulations that affect mega-wealthy corporations, which the big telcos tend to be.

    The beauty of the Internet, one of the greatest human achievements ever, is that virtually anyone can get their voice heard, and can look for voices to hear. You will never be “canceled” from the Internet for unpopular views, low ratings, or any other reason.

  10. There’s a bit of “what have the romans ever done for us” in this argument.

    We oppose traffic throttling!

    (Except MTU, because that’s essential for IP to work).

    But we oppose traffic throttling apart from MTU!

    (and QoS, because we’d like our phones to work too).

    But we oppose traffic throttling, apart from MTU and QoS!

    (and DNSSBL and SPF because they keep our networks secure and help prevent spam)

    But we oppose traffic throttling, apart from MTU, QoS, DNSSBL and SPF. And browser protection stuff, of course. And firewalls. And we want faster broadband, because we’ve paid for it. Vive la revolution!

  11. Unfortunately neither Saruman(Big Business) nor Gandalf(Big Gov) is very trustful when it comes to the power of the Ring (Internet).

    Either COULD control speech if they were given free reign to do so, even out of a desire to do good.

    Personal preference would be towards stronger enforcement of anti-monopolistic laws to keep NBC/COMCAST/Verizon/ABC/Google from happening. Or perhaps a government maintained broadband option that is taxpayer funded allowing for a minimum standard for internet access.

    Couching the net neutrality debate in terms of ‘one side is evil, the other is good’ isn’t really looking at this issue. It is just demagoguery.

    Current personal knowledge of the net neutrality debate is limited so if there is something that is not correct above, feel free to offer corrections.

  12. I’ve already changed my default search engines from Google to Bing over this. Google’s denial was later denied, and then obfuscated with corporate speak.

    Let the punishment begin.

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