Heated discussions are abound online and off regarding net neutrality.
Let’s take a second to actually define net neutrality so that we aren’t operating from errant presuppositions. Net neutrality has been defined as a “buzzword used to describe a principle proposed for users’ access to networks participating in the Internet. The principle advocates no restrictions by Internet service providers and governments on content, sites, platforms, the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and the modes of communication.”
My opinion in 140 characters or less: Net neutrality is a GOOD idea, but impossible to achieve under our current global infrastructure. #EPICFAIL. PLS RT
My expanded opinion: Let me preface everything I am about to say with this statement — I believe that the concept of net neutrality is fundamentally just and right; it is Utopian in its ideals and has a genuinely deep-seeded objective of freedom of information through technology. Unfortunately, like most of the consortiums, news outlets, and textbooks we have at our disposal, every information source is subject to bias, opinion, and bastardization.
I present to you five obstacles that are currently in our way of complete net neutrality:
1. Commercial Internet Service Providers: As it stands, the Internet is primarily a pay-to-play arrangement. Because access to the Internet isn’t inherently free to begin with, the trickle-down effect presupposes that the actual content that you receive once you get online won’t really be free either. This results in media that is placed or paid, through journalistic perspectives, sales/marketing objectives, or agendas of major financial backers realized through a farm team of advocates. (See #4.) IRL examples: Google search engine advertising; Software/hardware/appware strategic partnerships for smartphones (i.e. Motorola Droid with Google via Verizon Wireless service with Amazon MP3 store preinstalled).
2. Governments and Political Agendas: (In this case I am using “governments” and “political” in their fundamental context, where institutions that regulate any social relationships via authority or power qualify as a government or political institution and can carry out the agenda of a select few. This can be the city/state/national government, a religious institution, an educational system, and other culturally accepted bodies of authority) Governments are supposed to work with us, not against us. Unfortunately this has been the struggle since the beginning of recorded history since our usual protocol is 1) we elect them, 2) we decide we don’t like how they’re running things, 3) we do nothing about it OR we inefficiently try to solve the problem by addressing the symptoms and not the causes of our problems. IRL examples: The Great California Marijuana Debate, PETA.
3. Lack of Web-wide Credibility Standards: There is no governing body or accreditation of information provided online. There is no “stamp of approval” to qualify truths and credible information. Currently, credibility is cloaked by commercial and political agendas. Because you essentially “get what you pay for,” the rules of caveat emptor (buyer beware) apply. Credibility is being bought and sold like a commodity — and when that “credibility” has the power to sway nations into action or economies into tailspins, then yes, I suppose you can in fact put a dollar figure on it. Unfortunately, since information is not a tangible good, you cannot “return” it. All you can do is try to erase it from our collective memory, but unfortunately, the information has been imprinted in our culture and thought processes. I don’t know about you but my mental environment is much more expensive than the Internet bill I received and paid for. IRL examples: All unsponsored content in the blogosphere.
4. Paid, Earned, and Owned Media, a.k.a. Commercial Agents of Information: It’s hard to report the news with freedom from commercial interests when there are bills to pay. Whether it’s through sponsorship, controlling interest, or strategic injection of loaded opinions or material, paid, earned, and owned media makes it difficult to have an honest conversation. If someone is paying to place content, it’s not unadulterated truth: it’s advertising. If it’s a story that has been deemed newsworthy by a writer, an editor, etc., the story probably got to them through marketing and PR efforts…and that qualifies as earned media. If the media channel itself is owned by a person or a company, and not the people, then it has an agenda. Logically then, by those standards, all paid, earned, and owned media serve as commercial agents of information. IRL examples: My mother watched a video news release on Christmas Day and thought it was factual and not opinionated. Public radio stations getting paid to play the same songs over and over again. Texas rewriting textbooks that will eventually be distributed to the rest of the United States.
5. Dumb People: Not everyone will make the best choices with the information they find online. This isn’t to stay ignorant people are to blame. (Ignorant people just don’t know. Dumb people don’t know any better.) Dumb people — the people who read unmoderated information and believe it to be the truth without challenging the PR spin, the loaded statements, and/or the statistics blown out of proportion — make net neutrality dangerous. For the most part, people who are fighting for net neutrality tend to be pretty intelligent people to begin with. They can form cohesive statements and arguments in any direction if they tried. If said dumb person reads unmoderated, unfiltered information online and can’t discern between truth and false, and right and wrong, then net neutrality puts all of us relatively intelligent people at risk. IRL examples: Woman gets murdered after changing her Facebook relationship status. Tea Party mind control rhetoric. Kid finds recipe to make a pipe bomb and blows up the neighborhood by accident.
- Net neutrality begins internally — we must first examine our collective processes of the way we consume, interpret, and synthesize information.
- A completely free Internet dilutes the collective intelligence required to discern truth from false.
- To truly achieve net neutrality, we must all break down the obstacles that are in our way. Seeing as though said obstacles are finely engrained in our global infrastructure, its pursuit many actually cause more harm than good. (Will the ends justify the means?)
- We ought to focus on closing the digital divide before we focus on net neutrality. We put the cart before the horse again.
- Net neutrality is Utopian and worth striving for. We just need to proceed with caution.
I’m curious to see what your thoughts are on it! What’s your opinion on net neutrality?