A brief word on Net Neutrality

Net neutrality was big in the news recently thanks to the FCC. I’ve been a big believer in the principle of net neutrality ever since I heard it defined many years ago. Lately there’s been a whole lot of misinformation about what net neutrality is and isn’t thanks to politics.

I’ve seen numerous opinions on social media for and against net neutrality which are basically divided along ideological lines. Conservatives (and libertarians, I suppose) seem to hate it while liberals are applauding the move.

Like a lot of political issues, I think most Americans want the same end goal. We all want to be safe, happy, prosperous, and free. We disagree on how to get there.

All I really want to do is communicate what net neutrality is as simply as possible. The definition has become clouded by the debate over the FCC’s decision and that’s not helpful for anyone. Net neutrality existed as a concept long before the Obama Administration or the FCC got involved. It means something specific and just because some people disagree with the FCC’s move to classify internet service providers as utilities doesn’t mean opponents of that decision suddenly get to redefine the principle.

Wikipedia’s definition is great:

“Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.”

Net neutrality says the internet is an open and level playing field. It says that governments don’t get to control content or access to content – and neither do the companies providing that access. There are no gatekeepers to the neutral internet.

I think the majority of Americans want the internet to remain a free and open landscape for commerce, communication, and creativity. The internet has been largely neutral in the United States in the past 20 years which has lead to a great deal of innovation.

The debate should about how (or whether) we enshrine the principle of net neutrality as law. Net neutrality itself should not be vilified. It’s not about the government seizing control of the internet – it’s the opposite!

Having said that, the way that the FCC is going about things may be cause for concern. For one thing, they kept their 300 page decision under wraps until after the vote. The rules they are placing ISPs under are incredibly out-of-date. They were written in the 1930s.

Making laws about technology is tough. It’s easy to get bad laws because a lot of people in Congress don’t properly understand the technology they’re regulating. And of course there are the lobbyists representing monied interests.

For the record, I think this FCC decision is questionable at best. Something probably needed to be done to keep telecom companies from extorting content providers (as was beginning to happen – see Comcast and Netflix) but this isn’t the way to do it.

There are a myriad of problems with the internet, communications technology, and the law in the United States. But net neutrality – despite what’s being done in its name – isn’t something to be vilified.

What I want – what so many people want – is simply to keep governments and service providers from controlling content – which is tantamount to controlling speech – on the internet. Net neutrality is freedom and openness. Let the debate be over implementation of that principle. Stop defining it as something it isn’t.


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