The Free and Wild Web

The Free and Wild Web

Today is the designated Day of Action in support of net neutrality against the Federal Communications Commission's attempt to allow internet service providers to give preferential bandwidth to certain websites over others. Proponents of the ISP's cause give emphasis to the freedom of companies to give service and preference as they wish, and letting ISP's be able to parcel out which parts of the internet their customers can visit lets customers pay less in order to not pay for access to parts of the internet they do not visit. There is also an argument of security - giving people less access to the internet decreases the chances of them being radicalized.

Counter to the claims of the FCC is a united front of over 80,000 websites and companies, including Amazon, Google, Facebook, Reddit, 4chan, Netflix, Siessfires, Spotify, and the ALCU, (one of these is not like the others). That such opposition is so widespread among so many industries and points of view is not surprising - ending net neutrality serves only to line the pockets of ISP's at the expense of the freedom of information and commerce afforded to Americans by a free and open world-wide web. The argument for letting ISP's have the liberty to parcel out what parts of the internet their customers can access is not only infringing on the liberties of their customers, it is an abuse of monopoly - several areas in the United States only have one valid ISP.

A feeling of resentment against ISP's runs strong and deep - the contractual obligation of an ISP to provide "up to ### mb/s" really means they can provide as much or as little as they can actually provide; customer dissatisfaction with Comcast has reached mythic proportions for reasons such as this. Defenders of ISP's will say that this fluctuation of service is due to limits of infrastructure and increased revenue by ending net neutrality can increase service, but infrastructure construction and maintenance is paid for by the Universal Service Fund, which is itself funded by levying taxes on telecom company revenue. However, such taxes only touch on voice-based communications instead of internet broadband, restricting the Universal Service Fund's ability to improve infrastructure. The common counter-argument would be to end the Universal Service Fund and let telecom companies build all the infrastructure, but that would be equivalent to having different width train tracks - it would only increase regional monopolies and drive up consumer costs while inhibiting commercial traffic.

Increasing consumer costs goes counter to another argument supporters of the FCC express. The prospect of having access to less websites on the internet in return for a lower bill may be attractive for some parts of the population, but it would work decidedly against most internet users. The foremost victims of such a plan are gamers - gamers use a substantial amount of bandwidth in order to download, update and play their hobby of choice. Losing net neutrality could lead to increased costs in order to access gaming services such as Steam or Origin or a hard cap on data transfer, ensuring lag unless you paid an extra amount a month. The next victims are those that purchase goods online - having a "default internet" that only gives you access to certain websites prevents a consumer from comparison shopping. Likewise, websites that would be included on the defaultnet would know that their customers would likely lack the ability to compare prices and raise the prices of their own goods; the consumer now has to choose whether to give their tithe to the ISP in order to see cheaper websites or bite the bullet on higher prices at the checkout. Social media hounds would be the next biggest victims - for better or worse, social media has become an integral part of modern society. Be it Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Tinder, the ability to communicate instantaneously worldwide is both undermining existing media organizations and making them a beacon of truth in a sea of noise. Giving an ISP the direct ability to restrict what news you receive in return for cash is equivalent to the Post Office restricting your mail or UPS locking your packages up unless you pay a monthly fee.

The aspect of restricting news also touches on a very important facet of net neutrality - it helps avoid censorship. In the hypothetical defaultnet, you would not be able to access any news besides whatever your ISP decides is the bare minimum to prevent you from flipping out. This is most likely going to be staple organizations such as Fox, CNN, MSNBC - essentially the basic news channels on cable. As such your ability to get any alternate information, be it from Bloomberg, Infowars, Fivethirtyeight or (ahem) Siessfires, will be nullified. This flies straight into the face of the spirit of the first amendment - the internet may not have existed in the 1780's, but then again neither did AR-15's, and those are allowed as they fulfill the social requirement of resistance against tyranny as declared necessary by the existence of the second amendment. We do not live in an era of press-print newspaper and town criers - a free society in our era is predicated on a free internet.

Access to the internet is already considered a right in Finland, Estonia, France, Greece, Spain, and Costa Rica. The United Nations Human Rights Council declared in 2016 that the rights that a person holds offline must be affirmed online as well. This is a matter that the United States should take heed - in the same way that American rules of aviation set the standard for international rules of aviation, American rules of the internet set the standard for international rules of the internet. The greatest weapon that America has to spread its soft power is its culture, and its culture is being spread faster and more effectively by a free and open internet. Putting any cap on the internet inhibits the ability of the American people to do what they do best - control the conversation. Discussions of restricting internet access in order to prevent racist or religious radicalization will do disproportionate harm to those not at risk of radicalization and is de facto group punishment.

It is very likely you have heard all of this before, and you might be wondering why it sounds familiar. That is because this is not the first time telecom companies have made a move to end net neutrality - it is essentially an annual fight that will not cease until the telecoms win or access to the internet is enshrined in the constitution as an essential right, necessary for modern commerce and an informed populace. Until then, you are needed. You can do your part by going here; write your letter in the pop-up prompt and flood your elected representative's phone lines. Let them know why the internet is important to you - be it because you don't like to leave the house while shopping, you like looking at naked people for free, or you don't feel comfortable with letting some suits tell you what you should or should not be able to read, watch or hear.

Be a keyboard warrior.

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America's Holy Scroll

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