Tag Archives: net neutrality

How neutral is your net? It may not stay that way for long…

Last year Verizon filed an appeal against the FCC after it adopted net neutrality rules. The rules would prohibit phone and  cable companies from discriminating against certain content. On principle, net neutrality is the concept of equal access to all content and services on the internet. Many of those phone and cable companies against net neutrality feel threatened because content providers like Netflix or software like Skype take away from their own similar services. Comcast was caught the year before that (2010) by the FCC for discriminating against large file-serving sites and prioritizing others.

While the current FCC rules protect phone lines- DSL and cable – there are still fewer protections for wireless broadband internet content. As member Chris Calabrese of the ACLU Legislative Council said last year when the measures were passes, “Network neutrality principles are essential to protecting the First Amendment rights of Americans who rely on the Internet as a forum for free speech.”

If equal protections aren’t provided for broadband internet access, that’s an abridgment of free speech. It’s a slipper slope from there until the few most popular sites run the fastest and the lesser known but still important websites will be extremely slow and difficult to access.

Just recently, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings suggested Netflix receive a cut of revenue for how much business they bring to broadband internet. Netflix is the largest providers for internet video, providing nearly 30% of internet traffic during peak periods in the United States.

In another example of net neutrality in the news causing a stir and raising moral dilemmas concerning internet access is about a week ago when Comcast said they would not count their Xfinity content under Open Internet rules. They said net neutrality would not apply there because they owned complete control of the content distribution.(Because being an integrated monopoly is much better.) Comcast changed its mind a few days later saying Xfinity was simply another cable TV alternative. There’s also the issue of a content cap for Xfinity users, who think the bandwidth cap may be a way to keep away cable competitors.

    In the age where internet access is starting to get traction as another vital human right, content users and creators, as well as the FCC need to keep a sharp eye on companies elbowing their way to faster, better access on the internet. Because if some companies are getting preference that means the majority are getting screwed. Those minority sites in turn hurt users, and in cases of independent news sources this effect could be devastating. Without the principles of net neutrality enforced, the internet will no longer be the ultimate equalizer; the open space for discourse and free speech that it has become.
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We’ve read about censorship before- in books like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984– and it was based partially on experiences. Now we see the same issue cropping up in the internet. It would be very convenient for many people, for governments, for dictators, and for corporations to only show us what they want us to see on the internet. This happened recently in 2010 when Google agreed to censor certain sites in China that the Chinese Industry and Information Technology’s Telecoms Development Department  didn’t approve of. Essentially, China’s “Information Department” is acting here as a ministry of propaganda. There’s no way to sugarcoat good old fashion censorship of information from the masses. Omission of information is just as bad as falsified information. There are hackers and people who are able to find ways around such internet restrictions, but not every Chinese citizen can be expected to do this. And while this agreement with Google may have started to prevent the dissemination of  pornographic or “subversive” material, who is to say where the line is drawn? Who decides at that point what is considered “subversive” or threatening to national security? The scary part is that citizens might not even know what is being kept from them. Who is to say that opinionated articles on the censorship of free speech won’t be censored next?

This isn’t just happening on search engines in communist countries, either. It’s happening here in the US and even on our cell phones. In 2008 Common Dreams reported on instances of Verizon blocking subscription text messages from the pro-choice group NARAL. Verizon cited reasons of censorship of texts that, in their opinion, “promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.” Not only did this block the free exchange of information between an organization to people, but prevented those supporters from being able to organize amongst each other and efficiently rally support. Verizon was basically suppressing information that they didn’t like that could POSSIBLY stir up change.

The Common Dreams piece also cited the example from 2007 of Comcast blocking peer-to-peer file sharing sites. Are some of these sites pushing copyright laws? Yes. But that’s not all they’re used for. And the act of slowing down certain sites like this is data discrimination. While these sites may take up more bandwidth, it’s crucial to maintain equal treatment of internet traffic- net neutrality– if we want to keep the internet an open and egalitarian place for intelligent discussion and growth. Net neutrality is essential for independent media sources to be heard in a sea of mainstream media (who can afford the more expensive bandwidth for heavy traffic). If we lose this, we’re truly spiral into a nation of state-approved media, with the power of the media in the hands of the few and the rich.

R.I.P. Megavideo, you were dearly loved.


In this video, internet veterans Hank and John Green (of Vlogbrothers fame) explain the importance of free speech and expression on the internet through preserving net neutrality. They also get some help from other famous Youtubers. Hank and John Green have been spreading stimulating and educational content for years now on Youtube, as of lately through their educational project ‘Crash Course’. John Green will use his channel to explain to his subscribers everything from the economic futility of pennies to the current Syrian crisis. They are successful because they are funny and dedicated to their fans, but also because they are capable of explaining things as complex as net neutrality to their young viewers.

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