Informative Essay: Final Draft
February 15, 2013
We live in the most technologically advanced civilization in human history. The ability to communicate with people across the world via the internet is part of our technological achievements. In my own experience with the internet, not being the most sociable person and being a very radical thinker, I had a lot of trouble connecting with people within the community I live. Discussing issues that I cared about on forum sites with people who shared some of the same views has helped me stay civilized and sane. I ended up meeting my best friend on a forum site. I have known her for over a decade now and she is the only person I have ever encountered that has lived up to my insane standards of integrity and one of only two people that has earned my trust.
The internet, as I have stated, is a way for me to connect with people of similar interests and opinions. Some of those opinions that I hold are vehement anti-government sentiments with the belief that government should stay out of the lives of its citizens. It is with this statement that I begin the story that led to this essay. The story begins in 2008 when I was first living on my own. I was browsing YouTube and came across a video with a link to a forum site called I-Power. The main drive of the site was geared towards self-improvement but another aspect of the site was political activism. The focus of this site’s activism was centered on an issue known as network neutrality, or “the concept that all web content should be treated equally” (Roxberg 224).
This idea of having a free and open internet is at the heart of the argument that proponents of network neutrality use. “Those opposed to neutrality requirements generally view the Internet as a good thing, too; they argue, however, that market forces will assure continued access to the internet on reasonably neutral terms, and that legislating this requirement will stifle investment in new broadband services (Weitzner 1). Critics also argue that internet service providers would be burdened by the growing demand for broadband services and the bandwidth needed to sustain this demand. As Shelanski put it, “As the debate has continued between those who argue that network neutrality regulation is necessary to preserve applications innovation and those who argue that such regulation would harm the growth and development of underlying network infrastructure”(24). This illustrates the main argument against network neutrality in that it would be detrimental to businesses.
What the network neutrality debate boils down to is that it is an issue concerning freedom of expression as well as the freedom to disseminate ideas without being censored. Put another way, “Free speech is a matrix, the cohesion that holds all other laws and rights together, the proverbial glue of Western society” (Chesbrough 4).
In order to understand the issue of network neutrality, one must first understand how relevant the issue is in a historical context. Although network neutrality is a recent political issue, the debate at its core is as old as the use of language to communicate. There will always be governments and corporations that wish to restrict the freedom to express and spread certain ideas.
A quick overview of key events in the network neutrality debate will be useful for the reader to get up to speed with network neutrality. The first major event was the Comcast vs. FCC court case after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had given an order to Comcast to stop its discriminating policies of blocking certain peer to peer content. In response to this, Comcast argued that the FCC had overstepped its authority to intervene in the practices of internet service providers. Comcast ended up winning the case as Roxberg explains, “The court subsequently vacated the FCC’s order and left the FCC without authority to regulate broadband ISP’s until the FCC could justify use of its ancillary authority” (233). This decision by the court to deny the FCC’s ability to interfere with internet service providers’ activities of blocking certain content was a set back for network neutrality activists. Commenting on the decision was an FCC commissioner “The decision was not just a blow to all Americans who rely on an open internet that serves all corners without discrimination” (qtd. in McClelland 14). This commentary elucidates the importance of preserving an open interent.
Another important event in the history of network neutrality is the Stop Online Piracy Act, better known as SOPA. This is one of the few, if not the only case, in which the network neutrality issue has been covered by the main stream media. The attention it received prompted activists to strike down the bill for the time being. The SOPA bill would allow the government to effectively shut down a website that it perceives as promoting copyright infringement. This can extend to certain YouTube videos that contain fair use content. Another bill that is not as well known as SOPA is Protect IP Act (PIPA) that contains similar language to the SOPA bill. This bill accompanied by SOPA was also shut down through the efforts of activists. The last bill that is worth mentioning, CISPA , or “The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which passed the House last month, was designed to enhance security by facilitating information-sharing among private companies and the government. But critics said the bill would allow major transfers of information—say, from Google to the government—without meaningful protections for Internet users” (Cowles 1). This illustrates how government, not just ISPs, are attempting to change the way the internet is experienced by allowing corporations to share private data with the government such as e-mails.
Those who do not know about the issue of network neutrality may be asking themselves how a regulated internet would affect them. For anyone that downloads music on peer to peer sites such as pirate bay, a regulated internet would shut down or interfere with these sites. There would also be certain sites that would be slowed down because of bandwidth discrimination. Another way this would affect the average internet user is in a professional setting. For example, if someone were to start a business online they would have to compete with much bigger sites and the bigger sites would be given preference by these discriminatory practices. The small site would receive fewer hits and would load slower than the bigger web pages.
Even though the issue of network neutrality has been discussed on the internet, among the general public, it is largely unknown. As Quail suggests, “Despite its intensifying growth and importance, network neutrality has not yet captured the public imagination. This is likely reflective of the lack of media attention given to net neutrality as well as the way that both the concept and the policy are conceptualized and discussed in the media (32). About the only time I can remember network neutrality being mentioned in the mass media was a short bit on The Daily Show but that was more of a parody of the SOPA conflict. Since then I have not heard much of anything about network neutrality from mass media sources. I think that this ignorance of network neutrality is why it is so important to inform people about what is really going on in today’s government.
As the network neutrality debate moves forward there are some key points to consider going into the future of the issue. First is that CISPA is back as it was introduced again in February. This bill was strongly opposed by network neutrality proponents and supported by telecommunication corporations. I think that this scenario shows how much influence corporations have on policy making. Another point I need to bring up is that, as I mentioned earlier, network neutrality being an issue about freedom of expression and sharing those ideas with others with out being censored is the foundation of the network neutrality argument. This is a very old debate that has been around ever since some megalomaniacal tribal leader decided that they didn’t like what others were saying about him. He decides to snuff out the dissidents by killing them, thus ensuring his tyrannical rule for years to come. Nothing has really changed since that time; censorship has always existed, even to this day. As with any political agenda, there are those who are overzealous and the camp of network neutrality advocates has their fair share of them. They are activists that use hacking as a political tactic. This is known as hactivism.
With internet hackers shutting down government sites and releasing personal information, governments will most likely crack down on hactivism in the future. There are a couple well known hactivist groups, one being Anonymous and the other wikiLeaks. These two groups have been the most notorious for their activities. As Stephen Ruth puts it, “Hacking has become a common occurrence worldwide, and attacks seem to be increasing in audacity and level of penetration.” (79). These hackers are the extremists of network neutrality advocates and will probably cause more harm than good in the long run and could even be the downfall of the network neutrality cause.
Looking to the future of the network neutrality debate, I am very pessimistic about the internet being preserved as it is. The most startling aspect of this issue is not anything involving network neutrality directly. It is the fact that this issue is largely unknown to the general population and even among those who have heard about it, the unwillingness to do anything. This ignorant complacency could prove to be an even greater issue than network neutrality.
Chesbrough, Emily Alice. “Freedom of Speech through the Looking Glass: Reflections on the Governance of Political Discourse in China, the United States, and the European Union”. 20 April 2012. Google Scholar. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.
McClelland, Stephen “Fallout: FCC, Comcast and net neutrality”. Intermedia, May2010, Vol. 38 Issue 2, p14-19, 6p Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.
Quail, Christine, and Christine Larabie. “Net Neutrality: Media Discourses and Public Perception”. Global Media Journal: Canadian Edition March 1, 2010 Volume 3, Issue 1, pp. 31-50. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.
Roxberg, Emily R. “FCC Authority Post-Comcast: Finding a Happy Medium in the Net Neutrality Debate” Journal of Corporation Law; Fall 2011, Vol. 37 Issue 1, p223-244, 22p. Business Source Premier. Web. 25 Feb.2013.
Ruth, Stephen and Samuel Stone. “A Legislator’s Dilemma”. Internet Computing. 9 Oct. 12. Google Scholar. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.
Shelanski, Howard. “Network Neutrality: Regulating With More Questions Than Answers”. Telecomm. & High Tech L.23 (2007-2008). Google Scholar. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.
Weitzner, Daniel “The Neutral Internet: An information Architecture for Open Societies” 2006. Google Scholar. Web. 25 Feb.2013.