As with many things, the internet has become something quite different from what those that initially envisioned it meant it to be. No, this is not going to be a sentimental rant about ‘How it used to be.” Truth is, although I would call my self a rather early adopter (been on the ‘net since about 1994) I am, by no means, an expert on its technical interworkings, or the political ruminations about its commercialization. I think the current situation we find ourselves in is akin to a town that failed to implement proper planning in its growth. Without clear vision of what goes where, and who gets what, you end up with everybody building where they please until the planning commission gets wise.
So now we are realizing the immense power of the internet. Seriously. It’s revolutionized many aspects of civilization and culture already. And it’s only about, what, forty-five years old? Well, it’s the last about 20 years that have seen the out of control growth that, finally, is getting some attention from regulators.
And herein lies the issue of the day: Is the internet a public asset that benefits us all equally? Or is it the domain of corporate behemoths that have, admittedly, helped to expand it to the far reaches of the earth?
I guess it’s lucky that the guy who coined the phrase ‘Net Neutrality’ is a lawyer. It is also providence that Tim Wu is on the side openness in the arguments over control of the internet. And while the United States Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C.) is about to release draft rules for net neutrality this week, I wonder if the die is cast. Because the cat’s out of the bag. Precedent for the rules for administering the internet as a public resource has already been set, and the result is like the ‘possession is 9/10ths of the law’ principle. Giant ISPs already have extensive discretion in controlling internet access by virtue of the FCC Chairman’s decision to designate it an ‘information service’ and not a ‘common carrier.’ The distinction is that a ‘common carrier’ designation warrants greater regulatory control to protect consumers, both individual and commercial.
A January 2014 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has reversed open internet rules that have been in place since F.C.C. Chairman Michael Powell proclaimed the internet to be operating as a ‘common carrier’ asset. Problem is that the F.C.C. was regulating it as a common carrier but had not legally designated it as such. It appears that some in the Federal Government wish to use the rationale of the enormous investment required to deploy the communications infrastructure that supports the internet as the basis for allowing broadband carriers to control access and use.
The internet is the crucial communication backbone that supports the digital age. We all have a stake in the outcome of the issue of net neutrality. There has been much published and debated on this topic in many sources. We’re looking forward to a lively debate and discussion in #SMXChat on Tuesday, May 13. 3 Pm EDT/7 GMT.
My primary source for this post has been this article in the May 10, 2014 edition of the New York Times:
1) Is the internet a freeway or a toll road?
2) How does an open internet affect innovation in business?
3) Can there be balance between interests of ISPs and consumers?
4) What’s your worst fear of ISPs having unregulated control of internet access?
5) Is it too late to create enforceable rules for neutral internet access?