Most of you already know theÂ 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 ofÂ service from the various providers.
But there are indications that some telecommunications companiesÂ areÂ looking toÂ 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 thatÂ large companies wouldÂ gain an advantage in what was once a level playing field. Their sitesÂ would load faster thanÂ personal blogs and online mom-and-pop shops. They would receive preferential treatment by Internet providers, and after a while, the averageÂ mouse jockey wouldÂ get frustrated and do allÂ of his or her businessÂ at the faster more prominent sites.Â Providers couldÂ discriminate based on who pays them most.Â OrÂ theyÂ could evenÂ discriminate based onÂ a political point of view.Â We’re talking aboutÂ 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/UniversalÂ want toÂ merge. And if such a merger takes place,Â the newÂ giant companyÂ could conceivably (and most likely would)Â charge other cable carriers more for NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, and the 3o plusÂ other cable networks it will own.Â Should that happen,Â it’s likely other carriersÂ won’t be able toÂ affordÂ 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 theÂ United States’Â 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 couldÂ 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. DetailsÂ on this dealÂ are still trickling in, but it appearsÂ 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? IsÂ this indicative ofÂ the natural evolution of any commercial endeavor? Are there benefits to doing away with neutrality that have been overlooked here? Please show your work.Â
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.