In a world now increasingly utilizing and gaining access to the Internet and its virtual and digital prospects, genuine freedom will never be attainable nor truly genuine without net neutrality. It also needs to be real net neutrality, not limited net neutrality that gives corporations like AT&T and Verizon the ability to restrict our access to content.
This appears to be a bold statement that sounds like quite a bit to ask for, and I can understand that. It is not, however, reality, because a free internet is inherently possible within a society free from oppression. The Founding Fathers would agree, the American people agree, the world population agrees, and anyone with a shred of sensitivity to those who have ever had to fight for basic human rights and civil liberties would soundly agree.
The Federal Communications Commission apparently agrees also, but just barely. The FCC voted yesterday \”to approve its first ever Internet access regulation,\” as The Washington Post reports. The new rules \”ensure unimpeded access to any legal Web content for home Internet users.\”
President Obama praised the FCC\’s new regulatory strategies and rules, saying they \”will help preserve the free and open nature of the Internet while encouraging innovation, protecting consumer choice, and defending free speech.\” The President is evidently content and satisfied with Chairman Julius Genachowski\’s ruling. Genachowski endorsed his plan for keeping the internet \’free\’, saying, \”the measure represents a compromise between industry and consumer interests.\”
Compromise, a topic I\’ve discussed regularly in my columns, has proven once again to punish those who pay for services, instead of protecting those people. Genachowski\’s measure, which he accurately describes as a \”compromise between industry and consumer interests\” must be absolutely unacceptable for the simple reason that the word \’industry\’ is in the same sentence as \’compromise\’.
Let\’s get specific as to why I\’m not satisfied with this proposal. The problem is that this supposedly \”strong and sensible framework\” has a gaping hole in it — namely, Internet access through mobile devices and wireless networks. Under the regulation, you\’ll be able to access what you want at home, through your ISP, but not necessarily on the go on your iPhone, BlackBerry, or other portable device. So how does the new rule protect freedom and openness?
Senator Al Franken understood this just hours after the FCC\’s measure was announced, saying \”For many Americans — particularly those who live in rural areas — the future of the Internet lies in mobile services. But the draft Order would effectively permit Internet providers to block lawful content, applications, and devices on mobile Internet connections.\”
\”Mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless would be able to shut off your access to content or applications for any reason. For instance, Verizon could prevent you from accessing Google Maps on your phone, forcing you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it costs money to use and isn\’t nearly as good. Or a mobile provider with a political agenda could prevent you from downloading an app that connects you with the Obama campaign (or, for that matter, a Tea Party group in your area).\”
Politically, this should be a winnable issue for Democrats, who can make the case, as Franken does, that this is about access to content generally, not just to left-wing, pro-Democratic content. Conservatives are clearly attached to their special interest-counterparts, but who\’s to say that non-neutrality wouldn\’t result in restrictions on access to right-wing content as well? Freedom is supposed to be non-partisan. Can\’t Democrats make the case that the only options on the social table are freedom or corporate authoritarianism?
Historically, they cannot, and Republicans are still doing a wonderful job of selling their staple product of \’free markets\’. \’Free\’ being a codeword for state-subsidized capitalism, and \’markets,\’ a codeword meaning power ought to be given into the hands of private, unaccountable tyrannies.
The FCC deserves some due for proposing a few solid rules that benefit consumers, such as the rule that \”pay for priority\” arrangements \”would generally violate the FCC\’s \’no unreasonable discrimination\’ rule. One could argue that this proposal is a step in the right direction, and that the FCC taking a stance on net neutrality is a proactive step (as opposed to reacting to consumers getting shafted).
On this issue, Americans must understand that any rule that benefits industry at the expense of the population is not only undemocratic by nature, but offensive to the Found Fathers\’ vision of liberty and freedom. Compromise in the name of limited freedom is a terrible vice.