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Net Neutrality: A Worthwhile Cause
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Net Neutrality: A Worthwhile Cause

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Imagine getting online one day, only to find out that you can’t access your favorite website. Perhaps it’s Facebook, MySpace, or any number of other social networking websites, but none of them seem …

Imagine getting online one day, only to find out that you can’t access your favorite website. Perhaps it’s Facebook, MySpace, or any number of other social networking websites, but none of them seem to work. You quickly call your Internet provider, but after talking to them find out that in order to gain access to that site, you’ll need to pay more money. Unfortunately, this is what Internet providers want: An Internet that they can control, where people would purchase packages of access similar to the way subscription television is purchased. The issue is net neutrality, or keeping the Internet neutral, and there is a huge fight between consumers, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and providers of Internet access (e.g. Verizon, Comcast, etc.).

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  • 1. Cory Bohon
    Professor Brock Adams
    Composition II (SEGL 102)
    27 April 2009
    Net Neutrality: A Worthwhile Cause
    Imagine getting online one day, only to find out that you can’t access your favorite website. Perhaps it’s Facebook, MySpace, or any number of other social networking websites, but none of them seem to work. You quickly call your Internet provider, but after talking to them find out that in order to gain access to that site, you’ll need to pay more money. Unfortunately, this is what Internet providers want: An Internet that they can control, where people would purchase packages of access similar to the way subscription television is purchased. The issue is net neutrality, or keeping the Internet neutral, and there is a huge fight between consumers, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and providers of Internet access (e.g. Verizon, Comcast, etc.).
    As defined by the founder of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, net neutrality is, “If I pay to connect to the [Internet] with a certain quality of service [or speed], and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communication at that level” (Berners-Lee). Basically, net neutrality means that if you pay for Internet access, you should be able to share information freely, without being barred from accessing any online service. The topic of net neutrality has been around since the World Wide Web was formed in the early 1990s; however, over the past few years, it has quickly switched from being only about accessing certain websites, to being about sharing large files over peer-to-peer networks (either through BitTorrent or Kazzaa, etc.), and through to watching streaming video through sites like Hulu.com or from podcasts. Because many of the Internet providers also have ties with subscription television services (either cable or satellite), they want you to buy television from them, not watch Á la carte streaming shows online through various websites. Because moving large files around over the Internet costs money and bandwidth (how much information you can push through the network), Internet providers want to charge more for access. According to Senator Ted Stevens, the senator of Alaska and leading advocate of anti-neutrality practices, “The current contribution mechanism of assessing only interstate revenue is broken and it needs reform.” He went on to say that his proposed reform would charge more for an Internet connection to a business than a residential connection (United States Senate). Charging more for access to online services is preposterous; not only would it make businesses struggle more in the hard economic times going on today, but it might also cause prices for products and/or services from these companies to skyrocket. It is simple economics that leads us to believe that if businesses are charged more for services that make their company run, then the cost will almost certainly be passed on to the consumer.
    Currently, Internet providers have taken matters into their own hands without asking the FCC (the governmental body responsible for regulating communications) for approval. Comcast, a large cable Internet provider recently started monitoring the activities of their customers, and re-routed Internet traffic that looked like peer-to-peer file sharing through BitTorrent. When they spotted this activity, they would re-route it so the traffic would never reach the computer it was trying to be sent to. As you can see, net neutrality moves far beyond the bounds of simply limiting connections to specific websites – Internet providers are also targeting different online activities and services (Mark).
    Many Internet providers want to control what people can access, and charge fees based on multiple levels of access, or tiers. These tiers might be based on “packages” similar to cable (or satellite) television packages where you might buy a tier to access certain sites or services. According to Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Stanford University, “[The Internet’s] unique design transformed it into a resource for innovation that anyone in the world could use. Today, however, courts and corporations are attempting to wall off portions of cyberspace” (56).
    Internet providers don’t want the government or people to interfere with their “business plans” either. Comcast is one such company that has been limiting customer use of BitTorrent, a popular peer-to-peer way to share large files over the Internet. “Comcast determines how it will route some connections based not on their destinations, but on their contents, a clear violation of the FCC’s network neutrality principles” (Mark, 10). In addition to limiting BitTorrent use, other Internet providers have started putting into place “monthly bandwidth limits.” With these kinds of limits, you are restricted as to the amount of information you can access on the Internet; these limits came about because Internet providers don’t want to see their users eating up bandwidth due to downloading tons of videos online … it would also protect their stake in any subscription television business.
    I believe that reform needs to be done when it comes to how Internet providers are able to change their ideas on Internet connectivity. Tim Berners-Lee believes that the web was created as a place for people to share information freely. While the basic concept remains the same today, there are also ventures into online delivery of media, online stores, and other online ventures that are for profit. I think that the FCC should have a say in how Internet providers are allowed to operate their business models, and how they can charge for access. Charging for different levels of service (speed) is one thing, but when they start limiting what can be done with an Internet connection, the basic principles behind the Internet are at stake.
    This problem needs to be addressed before the big Internet providers get their way and the Internet as we know it will become a locked-down system of corruption. Not only will consumers be paying more for their Internet access, but they will also be getting a lot less with the proposed form of service.
    A war is raging away between Internet service providers (ISPs), consumers, businesses, and the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). ISPs want to limit what consumers can access online, and consumers and businesses want to keep the Internet the same as it is now: Neutral and equal access for everyone. Equal access to online services means an equal playing field for all online companies, search providers, and content providers – if we remove this level playing field, we risk losing the free online “economy” that we have created over the past decade. We need to tell the FCC and the numerous Internet service providers that we don’t want our Internet touched, and that everything is better left alone.
    Tim Berners-Lee also says, “There have been suggestions that we don’t need legislation because we haven’t had [net neutrality] before. These are nonsense, because in fact we have had net neutrality in the past – it is only recently that real explicit threats have occurred. Control of information is hugely powerful. In the US, the threat is that companies control what I can access for commercial reasons … I hope that Congress can protect net neutrality, so I can continue to innovate in the Internet space” (Berners-Lee). He basically says that the innovation that is occurring online, such as startup companies that are overly successful, is only available if the Internet remains neutral. If we don’t keep the Internet neutral, the creativity and the invention of these new technological advances will cease to be as present as they are now.
    If we give net neutrality the ability to cease, we will also cease to have inexpensive access to vital information. Internet providers will not only charge more, but will dramatically reduce competition of online services and sites, leading to monopolistic practices that aren’t good for anyone. According to a Congressional research paper prepared by Angele Gilroy for members of Congress, “… If network providers have control over who is given priority access, the ability to discriminate among who gets such access is also present. If such a scenario were to develop, the potential benefits to consumers of a prioritized network would be lessened by a decrease in consumer choice and/or increased costs, if the fees charged for premium access are passed on to the consumer” (Gilroy, 4).
    The topic of net neutrality is dynamically split, although not in half. There seems to be two sides to the story: Internet users and businesses seem to want the Internet to remain neutral, while Internet providers want to move to a tiered business model that would bring them more money. Verizon’s CTO, Richard Lynch said, “We need to guard against turning technical and business decisions into political decisions” (Mark, 10). Lynch made that comment in reference to the government intervening in the Comcast situation. Comcast was involved in the re-routing of Internet peer-to-peer traffic that involved BitTorrent access. Congress eventually ruled against Comcast’s ability to do this without getting FCC approval first.
    My proposal is very simple. First, we need to educate citizens on the importance of net neutrality. Not only will this situation have a lasting effect on every American with Internet access, but it will seriously limit the amount of technological innovation occurring. We don’t need to go back to the Stone Age when we can easily advance our generation and culture by continuing on our path. Secondly, we need to also inform the congressional leaders that this is an important matter, which will change our future, and persuade them to vote down any bills and legislation that would hinder net neutrality.
    Some people might argue, “Companies should have the right to charge anything they want to, after all, it’s their network and they can choose what gets routed through it. If someone doesn’t like it they can choose another Internet provider.” While providers do often times own their networks, they don’t have the right to discriminate what you can access or send through it. The basic formation of the Internet was the ability to share thing freely online. Just as phone companies don’t have the right to discriminate who you can call, Internet providers shouldn’t have the ability to discriminate what online services or websites you can access.
    Another person might also say, “Why not just charge the companies who grow businesses online the fees, instead of passing along the access fees to consumers?” But the fact is that if you plan on charging businesses like eBay, Google, or Facebook with these user access fees, then you risk losing many good, free, online services that provide a lot of value for Internet users. Not only would this cost be a burden added on top of what these companies already pay for Internet fees, you would also risk the ability for startup ventures to be successful. Startups would also need more venture capital, which would lead to fewer investors willing to handout the initial investments. Overall, this would be a bad idea as well. Too many regulations and fees don’t help anyone. Writing in the journal Economic and Political Weekly, Sruti Chaganti states that the future lies in computer networks. He believes, “Business on the net is easy and with the variety of services offered it is of little wonder that people are increasingly turning to the net for everyday living. The future lies there – in a network of computers spanning the globe” (3587).
    Keeping the Internet neutral and free from limitations will allow us to keep the same online freedoms that we have now. Only the FCC can ensure that our Internet remains this way by specifying what Internet Service Providers have the ability to limit, and how/if they can limit service. One thing is certain though: If we don’t act fast, and efficiently, then Internet providers will end up winning over consumer and online business freedoms. There are websites like SaveTheInernet.com that allow you to voice your opinion, and speak your mind about the topic of net neutrality (Free Press). Another option for letting the government know you want change in the way Internet providers operate is letting your local and state representatives know that this issue is important to you. Just as many people don’t know about the issues surrounding net neutrality, many local, state, and federal officials don’t either. If we stand together, we can invoke change that will help everyone, and if enough people stand up to what is right, then perhaps the FCC and Internet providers will take note. If things change, then you won’t have to take for granted the simple thing of logging into Facebook, or watching a video online.
    Works Cited
    Berners-Lee, Tim. “Net Neutrality: This is serious.” Weblog Post. DIG. 21 June 2006. Mit.edu. 12 June 2006 .
    Chaganti, Sruti. “Information Technology Act: Danger of Violation of Civil Rights.” Economic and Political Weekly. 38.34 (2003): 3587-3595. Jstor. U of SC Upstate Lib., Spartanburg. 4 Mar. 2009 .
    Free Press. Save The Internet: Fighting for Internet Freedom. 24 Mar. 2009. 31 Mar. 2009. .
    Gilroy, Angele A. “Net Neutrality: Background and Issues.” CRS Report for Congress. 20 Dec. 2007. .
    Lessig, Lawrence. “The Internet Under Siege.” Foreign Policy. 127 (2001): 56-65. Jstor. U of SC Upstate Lib., Spartanburg. 4 Mar. 2009 .
    Mark, Roy. “Verizon: Keep politics out of net neutrality.” eWeek. 8 Sep. 2008: 6, 10.
    United States Senate. U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation. 13 Feb. 2006. 31 Mar. 2009. .