Normally, this blog is reserved for posts about technology, the internet, and stuff about my career. Writing about politics just isn't something I like to do anymore. Not that I don't have any political opinions. I do (boy, do I have political opinions!). I just feel that politics today is so polarized that it makes debate darn near impossible. However, some recent talk regarding the topic of "net neutrality" gave me pause. As such, I felt the need to write here my stance on "net neutrality" along with my opinion on recent political discussions surrounding it.
Earlier this month (November 2014), President Obama released a statement about his plan for a free and open internet. What Obama outlined is the general consensus that most of us within the tech community feel, that ISP's and other internet-based companies should follow some basic, common-sense rules:
No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.
The thing is, none of this is new, nor is it a topic something that should lend itself to any political ideology. Folks within the tech community have been talking about this for a good few years now and the consensus is clear: keeping networks fair and open is necessary to the continued success of the internet. Any political discussions that go against this is more or less the equivalent of political suicide and yet, as we'll see in a moment, politicians still insist on playing sides for political gain.
All President Obama did was wrap the message up and use the power of the Presidency to get the message out loud and clear. The problem is that he did it right in the big middle of a mid-season election. Not only that but did it in a time where partisan politics is at an all time high. As John Gruber of Daring Fireball points out, the issue has become so polarized along party lines. In no time, politicians like Senator Ted Cruz take to the internet in opposition to President Obama's statement:
“Net Neutrality” is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.
Gruber's response says it all:
That’s just word soup. The only similarity to the Affordable Care Act is that Obama supports it. There may well be a rational, reasoned argument against Net Neutrality, but Republicans aren’t making it, and neither are the cable companies or cellular providers. Be wary of the side that can’t express their argument in clear, plain, unambiguous language.
Indeed, politicians like Senator Cruz need to watch what they say and how they say it...otherwise, you get the ire of the tech community and end up looking like a jackass (ex. the Dear Senator Ted Cruz post on The Oatmeal).
None of this solves the problem of "net neutrality". In fact, all it does is allow deep pockets to keep throwing money at it in an effort to make it harder for proper legislation to get passed to curb the problem. Meanwhile, businesses and consumers continue to pay higher costs for the internet services they receive compared to what other countries pay. In many areas, businesses and individuals have little choice on which ISP they can use. In other words, many ISP's have a monopoly on internet services in various parts of the country.
As outlined on The Verge in an article appropriately titled "The Internet is Fucked", zero competition, a weak FCC, and no "net neutrality" is a recipe for disaster. The only way to really solve it is to do what we did with electricity and phone service: turn the internet into a utility. Turn it into a utility and you end up solving most of the problems associated with "net neutrality" and ISP monopolies. So, say it once...say it twice...say it loud and clear:
THE INTERNET IS A UTILITY, JUST LIKE WATER AND ELECTRICITY