Imagine the Internet as we know it is gone. Instead of freely surfing with four tabs up – your twitter, your Facebook, your email and a StumbleUpon page – you’re constricted in what you can view, because your Internet service provider isn’t affiliated with YouTube or Facebook or StumbleUpon, so it’s preventing you from accessing the site. On top of that, you have to pay data service fees for your Internet usage on top of a monthly fee, the way some cell phone companies charge people to access Internet on their cell phones.
You can’t use Facebook – instead you’ve got to use your Internet service provider’s version of Facebook. So half your friends are on another social network and your pictures lay untagged and “unliked,” not even seen by your closest friends. You can’t use Google because your Internet service provider isn’t in business with them. Same with reddit, Amazon, blogspot.com, Linkedin and so on. You can’t use these sites because you must use the sites your Internet service provider wants you to use.
Does this sound like a horrible restriction of freedom? I think it’s safe to say it is. These are the fears of the proponents of net neutrality, an idea that promotes a free and open Internet. Last December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) acted to ensure net neutrality. They issued a ruling that prevented Internet service providers from discriminating against the sites they allowed. It also required these businesses to let consumers know their business practices, with no hidden fees or secret charges.
According to the news release the FCC put out shortly after their decision, “This process has made clear that the Internet has thrived because of its freedom and openness – the absence of any gatekeeper blocking lawful uses of the network or picking winners and losers online. Consumers and innovators do not have to seek permission before they use the Internet to launch new technologies, start businesses, connect with friends, or share their views.”
It’s an awesome decision, intended to preserve free use of the Internet. Yet House Republicans are steadfastly against it, passing a motion this week that attempts to negate the decision. It’s expected to fail in the Senate, and if it succeeds, President Barack Obama is probably going to veto it. But Republicans are trying it anyway. Right now, lawmakers are fighting a battle in Washington, D.C., to make sure the Internet can be regulated by businesses however they feel.
They say that any government regulation of the Internet is bad, because it allows for government hands on the Internet in the future. They say these regulations are an answer in search of a question, a defense against an enemy that isn’t at the door yet.
It seems clear that without these regulations in place, businesses are going to have to regulate the Internet for us. So far, they seem to be doing a good job. But consider what big businesses have done with cell phone usage.
Most cell phone users pay for a data plan in their cell phone bill. This data plan usually covers some, but not all, of their Internet usage. If users surf the Internet too much, watching videos and listening to music online, they could rack up data service fees. On top of that, there might be regulatory fees – fees designed to charge you for things like “wireless-number portability.” Then, of course, there’s administrative charges. They have to charge you for all this work it’s taken to charge you.
This is exactly what the Internet could be like without regulation. Sure, the FCC is being preemptive here. But it’s needed prevention. Or one day we could all wake up having to pay 25 cents per email, the way that cell phones charge for text messages. That’s not an Internet I want to use.
The Republicans would like you to believe they’re doing what they’re doing for freedom. But whose freedom? Certainly not the freedom of consumers or small businesses.
Rather, the Republicans are against the FCC ruling because it limits the ability of Internet service providers and phone companies to charge consumers. Considering that data service and regulatory fees already seem to apply to devices like the iPad, I’d rather not see their power extended to my trusty Lenovo Thinkpad laptop, thank you.
Now if you excuse me, I have to return to my four open tabs. I think there might be some new stuff on my Facebook minifeed.