We all have busy lives. I'm sure you can appreciate that the last thing I planned on doing today was to write a blog post about net neutrality. But now some parts of the ongoing public debate are getting ridiculous. It's time I entered the fray.
To get the basics out of the way: yes, I'm definitely for net neutrality, but I also think how it happens is important. To start talking about it, let's define the different aspects of net neutrality. I believe that there are two separate issues at stake:
- That traffic of all types be considered equal.
- That traffic from all sources be considered equal.
Equality of Types of Traffic
The first issue is a more pedantic, technological one. Should SSH be prioritized above all other types of traffic? Is it ok for networks to throttle bittorrent? This sort of packet shaping already happens. If you don't believe that, you're in denial.
The internet works pretty well as it is. The danger comes if an ISP like Comcast decides that one kind of traffic is evil and stops it from being sent over their wires. Can ISPs legally do something like that right now? Yes, it is within their power. Should they be allowed to? Well, that's where the "how" comes in. I don't think they should be allowed to ever totally eliminate traffic of any kind, but good prioritizing does have its visible benefits to the end user. Am I worried that this will be abused given the current law? No, not really. And finally, does this issue matter as much as the second one? Absolutely not.
Equality of Traffic Sources
Traffic from all sources should be considered equal. To me, the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the right to free speech, and that right would be severely violated by blocking - or making inconvenient - access to any source of traffic on the internet.
Without net neutrality, Comcast or AT&T or Verizon can decide that for $50 a month you can visit Google, Yahoo, and Bing. But to access the results from those search engines, you have to pay $1 for every link you click on. Doing that would be totally legal right now. And it would destroy our economy: ads on content networks, startups, venture capital, and every small business with a website would suffer. If you hold any stock in an online company that doesn't happen to be one of the top 100 visited sites in the U.S., the price of your shares would plummet.
Supporting net neutrality is therefore the only fiscally responsible position to ensure the continued growth of new online ventures and small businesses.
On the Tea Party
The Tea Party just said that opposing net neutrality guarantees free speech for the ISPs - those handful of corporations we get internet access from. What they don't understand, and belies their utter ignorance of the issue, is that even though those companies would be in a better position to make more money without net neutrality, they would also be able to censor anyone with an independent voice. And isn't that what the Tea Party wants? The people, being heard? This makes it sound like they want to sacrifice the many people for the few corporations. I call that stupid and reckless.
On What Actual Experts Say
People like Lawrence Lessig, who know internet culture, technology, and law better than anyone, support net neutrality. And people like him are in the best position to make a decision about it. Here's part of what he had to say:
Net neutrality means simply that all like Internet content must be treated alike and move at the same speed over the network. The owners of the Internet's wires cannot discriminate. This is the simple but brilliant "end-to-end" design of the Internet that has made it such a powerful force for economic and social good: All of the intelligence and control is held by producers and users, not the networks that connect them.
On Google and Verizon's Joint Press Release
In a recent press release, Google backed down from its old position of supporting net neutrality unequivocally to one where net neutrality is good for broadband internet, but somehow not wireless. I think Google really messed this one up. It directly violates the "Don't Be Evil" mantra they're always throwing around. And even though I know a lot of people within the company, I can't seem to find a single one who knows exactly who made this decision or why.
In general, I agree with the EFF's reaction:
It carves out exemptions from neutrality requirements for so-called "unlawful" content, for wireless services, and for very vaguely-defined "additional online services." The definition of "reasonable network management" is also problematically vague. As many, many, many have already pointed out, these exemptions threaten to completely undermine the stated goal of neutrality.
A Personal Matter
At the end of the day, the reason I'm so passionate about this - and why net neutrality is so important - is that if the future internet charges for access on a per site basis, then anyone who tries to start a business like me is screwed. You'd have to find millions of dollars to put into marketing in order to get known or get on the exclusive lists of pre-approved sites. The next Google, the next Facebook, or the next Twitter would never be able to happen. We'd be stuck with only the slow, lumbering giants we have now.
If you oppose net neutrality, then not only are you contributing to what could be an economic and a social disaster for the entire planet, you're also putting me out of a job.