Corporations harm access to information

On January 27, 2014

Net Neutrality is a term unfamiliar to many of us. Passionate bloggers debate for the concept despite the lack of public knowledge.

The Internet is currently headed in a dangerous direction if some sort of neutrality cannot be achieved.

Net Neutrality is the concept that all information on the Internet should be treated equally, regardless of who is retrieving it or where it comes from. Net Neutrality is such a broad idea that it is violated differently in different parts of the world.

Much of the online community knows of the heavy censorship of the Internet in more oppressive countries such as Iran, North Korea and China. These countries restrict any site that may say anything contrary to the government.

China seems to get the worst of the criticism over Internet regulation. The term “The Great Firewall of China” was coined by Western media to describe the situation.

While a lack of Net Neutrality is blatantly obvious in parts of the East, we on the Western front also struggle with the problem, but in a much different way.

Rather than the government directly controlling what can and cannot be seen online, corporations subtly control the Internet.

Huge service providers such as Verizon and Comcast are the puppet-masters controlling what is easily accessible. In this case the process is profit-driven and easier than you might think.

Let’s say we own a massive service provider which supplies about a third of the country with a daily dose of comedy. We already make a decent profit for providing Internet as a service but we can make much more.

For example, if a company like Myspace is competing with Facebook, Facebook could be getting more attention. Myspace can decide to pay us, the Internet provider, in order to boost business. As the provider we are free to boost the Internet speed of those who pay us to do so.

For good measure, we also decide to reduce the speed down to dial-up for anyone trying to use Facebook. Myspace is thrilled this small investment helped to drive more business and we, as the internet provider, are thrilled by the extra profits.

This story leads to an ethical dilemma, though. How free is an Internet where the highest bidder selects content? How is this any different from an oppressive government?
Fortunately for the average Internet user, the FCC came to the rescue.

In 2010, the FCC passed many regulations that protected consumers against massive service providers. Unfortunately however, a Federal Court of Appeals struck down the regulation after Verizon sued the FCC over it on Jan. 14.

The deciding factor of the case was that there is sufficient competition between service providers. When there is a lot of competition business tends to regulate itself.

The field of communications has always had problems with monopolies. For example, AT&T arguably had a monopoly for most of the 20th century, and the government did not split up the corporation until 1984.

Monopolies are easily formed in this field because there is generally no competition locally; when you move into a new neighborhood, you only have one or two options for internet providers.

Monopolies allow companies to operate almost as they please with no form of checks or balances. This is where the government has the authority to either regulate the business or break it into subsidiaries and artificially create competition.

While government regulation is usually overbearing and harmful to the free market, a minimum is required to keep the system balanced.

The most effective way to fight for Net Neutrality is to demand that Congress pass regulatory action. This would make it more difficult for large providers to simply hire lawyers to get around the regulation.

If we are going to continue to criticize countries like China or Iran over Internet censorship, we need to prevent the hypocrisy of living with a controlled Internet ourselves.

A little governmental regulation leads to more personal freedom, in this instance, the freedom of speech through the Internet.

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