It’s time to make a decision, America. We’re currently standing at the cusp of a regulation that could either make or break the Internet. However, with the deafening shouting of supporters on both sides of the net neutrality debate, it makes it a little difficult to absorb enough data to make an informed decision.
In most political debates, fallacy is thick in the heat of battle as each side tosses ad hom’s into the conversation, builds straw men and attempts to push the other party down a slippery slope to their defeat. However, when it comes to debates where technology is concerned, it is a little different.
Politicians are NOT Technologically Informed
One of the many problems when it comes to discussions about technology in government is that not everyone who speaks up has a real grasp on the argument. This is because most only see the surface of technology – many can explain what a device does and how to operate common features but the gritty details of how it works is a bit of a mystery.
This is fine for the Android versus iPhone debate because it really boils down to a matter of preference like Coke against Pepsi. However, net neutrality is little more important than the platform you use to text your friends or the soda you choose to drink.
Aside from lobbyists putting money in the pockets of decision makers, arguments are often skewed by throwing in technical, important sounding information that doesn’t actually have anything to do with the topic at hand. The lack of understanding by the masses coupled with intimidating tech jargon is often positioned to create unneeded concern.
This is much like the current Ebola issue – though some Western African nations are severely affected, fear mongering in the media has created panic. Take comfort as an American in knowing that you are statistically more likely to meet your doom from a wild animal than Ebola.
A Few Simple Truths About Net Neutrality
The anti “free Internet” crowd does bring up a valid point in their counter argument. An open model does create security concerns. Accessing certain sites could teach impressionable folks, like our youth, dangerous ideas.
It should not come as any surprise that certain sites promote illegal or harmful activity. Representing these behaviors too liberally could influence risky behavior. Thankfully, other media sources like regular television programming only instill positive ethics in impressionable young minds [sic].
Also, there are many platforms employing VoIP technologies that are utilized for more than a friendly conversation or working through a difficult homework problem. Some apps like Kik and Snap Chat are notorious for their usage that goes well beyond innocent picture sharing.
Such applications could be blocked by ISPs in the future regardless of how you feel about the platforms. The problem with this thinking is that all platforms have the potential for misuse. Applying this kind of logic for banning programs would be like banning vehicles because of car accidents or banning soup because someone dies from losing consciousness while eating a bowl of chili.
As VoIP does tend to consume a fair amount of bandwidth, it can be assumed that such applications and services could be targeted. Business relying on this technology for communication could be affected meaning that smoke signals may be replacing GoToMeeting sessions.
Open Internet is a Happy Internet
Where there is a will, there is a way. Where there is a human who can follow instructions on a webpage found by a Google search, there is also a way. Banning potentially dangerous sites or places that promote ideas doesn’t really keep people safe. There are already providers in other nations blocking traffic from the US – however, something as simple as connecting to a server in that country with a VPN client can circumvent these restrictions.
Keeping the Internet accessible and applications available (unless completely malicious) is very important to keeping the world connected. Aside from the open argument, the other point to address is the quality of service a provider chooses to offer customers.
The Bandwidth Debacle
Perhaps one of the biggest threats to Internet consumers is the prospect of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) throttling bandwidth to certain services. A great point was made by The Oatmeal author and illustrator, Matt Inman, who pointed out a misconception held by Senator Ted Cruz (warning: there is some PG-13 language in this comic so beware of your surroundings.)
The problem certain officials do not grasp is that regulation by the FCC does not mean that government takes control of the web. Rather, regulation put in place will prevent certain companies like Xfinity from blackmailing Netlix as pointed out by The Oatmeal. Otherwise the Internet turns into high-speed multi-lane highway with a traffic control system that forces you to stop every few minutes.
Certain figureheads in the government like President Obama are in full support of net neutrality and wish to see the FCC step in and lay down rules. Unfortunately, there is a lot of opposition to the proposal from politicians on the telecom lobbyist’s payroll. Even worse, is the resistance put up by some providers.
In a child-like fit, AT&T is essentially laying down in the middle of a playground, kicking and screaming because they do not want to play by the rules. Until there is resolution, the provider is halting the investment in fiber circuits for certain cities in the US. Because we can’t bend them over the knee and spank them, some regions will need to wait until the whining subsides or simply find a new provider.
It would be great to see intervention by an authority for these money making titans. In the very least, Comcast has agreed to play along with net neutrality. After all, it is very little extra burden to these providers to offer reliable data services and without extorting customers. When profits are through the roof, it shouldn’t be an issue to adequately support existing customers by maintaining infrastructure and investing further in better technology for the future.
Personally I would love to see my home Internet service just operate as is stated in the service agreement. No more random FTP failures, no more movie pauses as it re-buffers, no lag as I play my on-line games. Is that too much to ask?