The current debate over net neutrality and further governmental regulations over Internet Service Providers (ISPs) is about as vague as it is broad, and certain groups and members of Congress are taking it too far.
Net neutrality is the policy of free and unrestricted broadband internet service for any user, regardless of their ISP. These ISPs – such as Comcast, AT&T or Verizon – differ in name but provide the same product, and under net neutrality that service would be the same under every service plan.
On Oct. 22, the Federal Communications Commission proposed a first draft of some new rules that, if passed into law, would further enforce net neutrality. Under the rules, ISPs would act solely as their name suggests – mere providers of Internet service, with no abilities to discriminate against access to certain websites and increased transparency to the public and government.
To put it simply, we think this sounds great. So do websites such as Facebook and Twitter, search engines like Google and the Internet’s hailed creator, Al Gore himself.
The real opposition comes from multiple representatives in Congress and ISPs themselves. Representatives like Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) and the infamous Joe “You Lie” Wilson (R-S.C.) oppose the new proposed rules to net neutrality for fear of inflated government control. Glenn Beck thinks it’s a communist plot.
First, the FCC rules are not the looming Orwellian threat these representatives would have you believe. The rules – which will be officially proposed 60 days from Oct. 22 – simply give consumers the right to access Internet content and web applications of their choice, as well as the ability to choose ISPs in a competitive environment. There’s nothing in there about restrictive government oversight, and this isn’t a challenge to our freedom.
Second, many of the ISP arguments are fundamentally flawed. Verizon employee and communications chairman Ivan Sidenberg said the proposed rules will cause the government to favor one set of competitors over another, since the proposed FCC rules target ISPs and not Internet companies like Google. The government regulates the auto industry differently than it does drivers, and we don’t see Ford and Chrysler complaining. Different sets of competitors are regulated differently.
The opposition also stated increased channeling power to the ISPs could help prevent the passage of malware and spam. While this is surely technically possible, users already have a plethora of virus protection software and general know-how to make this a non-issue. This isn’t an excuse to turn the Internet into a controlled environment that varies from ISP to ISP.
Moreover, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently proposed a direct challenge to net neutrality itself with a bill that would grant ISPs the ability to slow down access to the Internet and web applications. This ironically titled “Internet Freedom Act of 2009” is a dangerous and overarching measure that essentially promotes what the new FCC rules are trying to prevent.
There shouldn’t be differences in website accessibility from one ISP to the next. Users shouldn’t have to change plans or subscribe to multiple ISPs to access their favorite websites.
If this goes to Congress, urge our California first district representative Mike Thompson to not listen to the arguments of companies like Verizon and AT&T.
Because after all, the Internet is not a big truck nor is it a series of tubes.