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Net Neutrality: What Is It? And Why YOU Should Care!

April 19, 2011 Industry Trends, Video News No Comments

If you use the internet you should care about Net Neutrality – period.

What is it?

To understand net neutrality, it is best to look (as usual) into the past, where the principle has already been broken on numerous occasions.

  • On February 4, 2010, Verizon Wireless blocked 4chan, an English language imageboard from being accessed by its customers. A few days later, on February 7, 2010, Verizon Wireless confirmed that 4chan had been “explicitly blocked”, offering no explanation. The block was lifted a few days later.
  • In September 2007, Verizon Wireless prevented a pro-choice organization from sending text messages to its members coordinating a public demonstration, despite the fact that the intended recipients had explicitly signed up to receive such messages.
  • In April 2006, Time Warner’s AOL (America On Line) blocked all e-mails that mentioned www.dearaol.com, an advocacy campaign opposing the company’s pay-to-send e-mail scheme. An AOL spokesman called the issue an unintentional glitch.
  • In 2004, a small North Carolina telecom company, Madison River Communications, blocked their DSL customers from using the Vonage VoIP service. Service was restored after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) intervened and entered into a consent decree that had Madison River pay a fine of $15,000.

Look familiar? This is what shopping for an ISP could look like.

Really AOL? An “unintentional glitch”? Anyway, In case those breaches in network neutrality don’t explain the principle, here’s a definition:

“Net Neutrality is a principle that advocates no restrictions by Internet service providers and governments on content, sites, platforms, the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and the modes of communication.”

Net neutrality, believe it or not, is a principle that long precedes the internet and goes back to the good ol’ days of the telegraph. If we look at the Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860 we find that the United States Government clearly advocated a net neutral telegraph when data was being transmitted over government subsidized lines. The Act states that:

“messages received from any individual, company, or corporation, or from any telegraph lines connecting with this line at either of its termini, shall be impartially transmitted in the order of their reception, excepting that the dispatches of the government shall have priority …”

If you take a moment to replace the word telegraph with internet in the previous excerpt it is very easy to see how applicable it still remains to this day. If our government was all about net neutrality back in 1860, what happened?

Why should you care?

Consumers make buying decisions partially based on the information currently available to them, the people controlling that information have tremendous amounts of power.

When you, the consumer, decide to buy a car, you hopefully spend plenty of time weighing your options and exploring different vehicles. You look through countless newspapers, craigslist ads, or you may even end up using a service like carsoup.com. At the end of the day, you feel confident that the car you purchased was a sure win based on all that time and effort you put into compiling that information. If we allow ISPs to pick and choose which information is available to us there will be less information. Maybe Joe-Blow owner of your ISP has stock in cars.com, an obvious competitor to your first two choices for car information. If net neutrality is not upheld, why wouldn’t Joe-Blow cut service or at the very least, slow carsoup down just a bit for his users? In turn, I am sure he would see increased traffic and thus, profit from his site.

Joe-Blow exists and believe me, he IS making every effort to make this a reality in the United States.

Look No Further Than Television

The folks who stand to profit from data discrimination or “elective filtering of information by a service provider” will lead you to believe that something similar will never happen. I respectfully say to them: look at television. Cable providers are by definition – data discriminators, they choose which networks you see, and which ones you don’t. If you believe for a second that all of their decisions are based on solely consumer demand then you are sadly mistaken.

Since the uprisings in the middle-east this last year, Al Jazeera English has reported a 2000% increase in traffic on their english based site, which contains a live stream of their programming. Of that massive 2000% increase, 60% are said to be viewers from the United States. Al Jazeera English is available to 130 million homes in over 100 countries and in every major European market, but, amazingly, has not been picked up by ANY major provider in the United States. Luckily, the folks who want to watch Al Jazeera here in the states can find it from the website, but what if Al Jazeera could not afford to put that stream up? I would be willing to bet that nobody in the United States would be watching it, that’s for sure.

Data discrimination has been practiced by the traditional broadcast industry for years, do we want them to control the internet as well? After all I would be shocked to learn that your ISP is anyone other than your cable television provider. Allowing our ISPs to perform data discrimination in any way at all, is a step in the wrong direction. We need to make our stand here or fear loosing every true source of information that exists in our country.

For more information, check out freepress.net “a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to reform the media”

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