The internet is in danger… again

The internet is awesome. I think we can all agree on that, right? Maybe…?

Sure, we complain about it a lot. We wonder what constant information and social media does to us as a species. But it would be seriously obstinate to insist that the internet hasn’t benefited us a great deal.

One of the best things about that internet is that it’s basically decentralized. Nobody owns it. Nobody runs it. That freedom has both positive and negative aspects, but in the long run, it has brought great innovations to all of us. Had the internet been a less free and open system it is possible that such innovation would have been stifled.

That freedom and openness is now in danger thanks to AT&T. Under the guise of consumer friendliness they’ve announced “Sponsored Data”. Companies can pay to have their websites and services not count against AT&T subscribers’ data plans.

Let’s say, for example, that Facebook pays AT&T for this. That means AT&T subscribers can use Facebook as much as they like without it costing them any precious data.

Sounds like a pretty good deal for AT&T customers, right?

Well, yeah. On the surface it seems like a pro-consumer move. In reality, this could turn out to be one of the worst things AT&T has ever done. And that’s saying a lot. With this move, AT&T is opening the floodgates for a non-neutral internet.

What the heck does that mean? Glad you asked.

Net neturality

Net neutrality is one of the founding principles of the internet. It basically means that all traffic on the internet is treated equally. Nothing gets greater priority than anything else. The internet has been and is supposed to be data agnostic. It doesn’t matter what website is loading. Internet protocol assigns them the same priority. The network itself is neutral. 

This means that a multi-billion dollar company like Google doesn’t have an inherent advantage over somebody hosting a website from a homemade server in their basement. Sure, Google’s money counts because they can afford faster servers, more servers, and advertising campaigns. But there’s nothing about the structure of the internet that gives Google (or any other giant company) a fundamental advantage. 

AT&T’s new plan will change that. AT&T subscribers will no longer have access to a neutral internet. Sponsored Data will train consumers to prioritize “Sponsored” websites – websites who have paid for preferential treatment – over other websites.

This is a very, very bad trend.

This sort of alteration to a network gives service providers a lot more power over the internet and their users than they currently possess. Suddenly we enter a world where to be really competitive online companies have to pay AT&T… and Verizon… and Sprint… and that’s just in the US! Were this trend to catch on in other nations, the cost of doing business would increase even more.

Given the importance of the internet to modern life, service providers should function like utility companies: providing you with bandwidth and charging you accordingly just like electric, gas, and water. Sponsored Data is a step in the opposite direction. It puts AT&T (and other telecoms should they follow suit) in the position of a gatekeeper. If your company hasn’t payed the Sponsored Data tax, you may lose users to those who have. Think about how this might apply to political, social, or religious organizations. Censorship by another name is still censorship.

This isn’t about “haves” and “have-nots.” This is about creating an extra barrier to climb over in order to be competitive online. It’s completely artificial. This is a problem that doesn’t have to exist but it will entirely because of the greed and shortsightedness of telecommunications companies.

The neutral internet is a wonderful thing and it needs to be preserved. I’m generally not one for seeking government solutions, but that is what we need in this case.

A few years back the FCC ruled on net neutrality. Wired networks (i.e. the internet service you get at home) were required to be neutral, but wireless networks (i.e. the internet you get via mobile phone) were exempted as a compromise. That was a mistake. Wireless internet is a huge market and is only going to grow in importance.

We need Congress to act on network neutrality. That’s probably too much to hope for since Congress isn’t exactly an effective legislative body these days. And they haven’t been very good at writing laws concerning technology in the past. Don’t forget the massive armada of telecom lobbyists who will fight tooth and nail opposing such a bill. Unfortunately, the cards are stacked against the internet remaining neutral.

Please get the word out. If you value the internet as a tool, as a platform, or even just for the entertainment value – please tell your friends and tell your representatives in Congress.

I’ve already contacted my representative and both senators about this topic. I never do that, guys. That’s how serious I am.

Thoughts for the New Year

It occurs to me that God did not give us a quota of souls to affect in our lives. He didn’t say “you must preach the gospel to this many people” or “you must disciple that many people.” As Christians we’re supposed to be doing that work but I often think that, given my previous failings in that area, I must now turn things around and make a huge impact. That line of reasoning is flawed, selfish, and just pain wrong.

For one thing, it places far too much emphasis on me. It insists that because I have done a poor job of submitting to the Lordship of Christ that I must now make up for it. But he already died for my failings. He died to set me free from theology of the Pharisees which binds salvation to a quantifiable set of rules and achievements instead of a changed heart.

If we are failing, it is not because we have failed to bring about the next Great Awakening; it is because we are failing to do the simple work of Christ in our everyday lives. Notice that the only servant who was rebuked in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) was the one who wasted what he was given. He buried it in the ground. He didn’t even try to make something of the opportunity he was given.

It is a lie to think that our success must be “great” (by human standards) if it is to be worthwhile. And this is the lie that I have allowed myself to believe without even realizing it. I have believed it about all kinds of areas in life, not just spiritually.

I have gotten off to a slower start this year than I had intended. It is my intention to be more consistent with my pursuits both professional and personal. By God’s grace, this will be a year of real growth – maybe not growth in the way I’d predict or plan, but growth nonetheless.

Happy (late) New Year to everyone!

The Site Has Landed

Happy Day after Labor Day! Yeah. I know it’s lame…

Even though I’m certain that the vast majority of people who will read this initial post already know me, allow me to introduce myself anyway. *ahem*

Hello there, I’m Matt. (If you happen to be reading this and you don’t know me already check the about page.)

This website is the realization of a long obsession. Ever since I discovered that they’ll let just anyone put a website on this internet thing, I’ve wanted to have my own. Back then (the late 90s) the internet was terribly slow and full of animated GIFs. Now it is less terribly slow and full of image macros. Progress, ladies and gentlemen! Progress.

So now that I have my own site and have become a land-owning lord of the internet with voting powers what am I going to do? Good question!

This website, while subject to change in purpose, is a repository for all of the stuff I’d like to share with the world as well as an ever-expanding portfolio of my work. Basically, it’s the fusion of my fun side and my professional side.

Does that sound like a bad idea? Very possibly. But it’s too much work segregating bits of my personality. If I did that it would consume all my time and I would never produce or share anything with the world. This is part of the reason my previous blog fizzled out. I felt like I could only post on certain topics there because of what I’d done historically.

This blog will have no such self-imposed limits. I hope to write about media, life, art, theology, philosophy, relationships, technology, hobbies, and whatever else comes to mind in an engaging and entertaining fashion. The only thing I’m not planning on talking about is politics and I can’t even promise you that won’t ever happen. But I will promise that if I talk about something politically related that I will try my best not to come at it from an annoyingly partisan position because I hate that and you can get it anywhere else on the big, wide internet.

Finally I leave you with a silly, silly picture of me wearing a Steak ‘n Shake* hat. Welcome to my website!

*Steak ‘n Shake does not endorse this site, but I endorse the combination of the Buttery Wisconsin burger and an Oreo milkshake. Yum.