Net Neutrality

Photo courtesy of jpoesen

How does the internet fit into local, regional, national, and global societies? What roles should individual, corporate, charitable, and governmental entities play with respect to the internet? It is difficult to imagine a broader topic.

There are some who want to perpetuate the gold rush town-libertarian antinomian atmosphere. Historically, in gold rush towns that resulted in gangs running communities, women exploited for sex, and animals abused to the point of death when they were of no further economic benefit. In some countries, the internet is used to promote infanticide. In most countries, victims of human trafficking are used to produce pornographic and sadistic videos and photos. We resent the tight grip of established companies and governments on intellectual properties and free expression. To some IP stake holders, Fair Use is anathema. On the other side of the coin, there are pirates who steal art or technologies and believe it is their right to freely snatch from the easel or work bench that which others have produced. The anti-Fair Use crowd, patent trolls, and frivolous patent lawsuits for the sole purpose of discouraging competition have elicited extreme responses like the old wild west gangs that just took what they wanted.

In parallel to the IP issue, in most countries, there is the Internet Service Provider (ISP) issue. Our little driveway onto the internet highway is controlled by a hegemony of corporations. In the United States, these include companies like Time-Warner Cable and Comcast as well as the wireless service providers like Verizon and AT&T. These ISPs express themselves as thugs when they try to control who can and cannot use my “driveway”. I may want to watch video from Netflix but the ISP’s have pay-per-view of their own. To look out for their profits, they limit the bandwidth given to competitors.

When the public was terrorized by gangs in the wild west, at least as portrayed in the movies, there came a time when a gunslinger was hired as sheriff to protect the safety of the public. This gunman would dramatically announce, “There’s a new sheriff in town, boys,” and then proceed to kick the villainous gang’s tails.

Lastly, there is the threat of governmental control of free speech and expression. This is very closely tied to the right to assemble peacefully explicitly provided in my country’s constitution (the First Amendment). A negative example of this was in Egypt when the internet was virtually shut down by the government to silence the voices of opposition. Another example of this, was when the United States government shut down websites accused of pirating without providing them due process.

So, what do you think? How do we protect Fair Use without stealing from artists? How do we stop anti-competitive patent law suits without stealing from the innovators? How do we keep the data flowing freely without causing other ISPs to follow Adelphia into bankruptcy? Who can be “the new sheriff in town” when governments have shown themselves to be unfriendly to our freedoms?

There is always a tension between freedom and security. It is not clear, wherein the proper balance lies. Nor is it clear, what entity can be trusted to play sheriff. There are a lot of simplistic answers being offered at the extremes of lawless free-for-all and internet tyranny. But at some point, we the people are going to have to put on big boy and big girl pants and give these complex but important issues the attention and action they deserve. Please don’t swallow whole the arguments of any one side. Do some critical thinking and post about it. Put a link to your post everywhere you can (including the comments here). Let’s get to work.

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