Teach a Man to Fish: Why Net Neutrality Matters

It is difficult, today, to imagine a world bereft of constant contact, consistently streaming news, or perpetual access not only to strangers clear across the globe, but even to those in the highest seats of power; to unlimited amounts of information, goods, services, and ideas, however verboten, however questionable, however obscure. That college papers were once written in school libraries, where mounds of books had to be meticulously scanned – or worse, read – to glean the facts to make the case is practically unthinkable; how in the world did we get along without the internet, ever?

There is no question that the World Wide Web has expanded and accelerated human potential, giving rise to astounding innovation in less time than ever before in human history. The opportunity for those with access to the technology is unlimited; thanks to the apps market, 17-year-old multi-millionaires are no longer an oddity, but a rather common occurrence in a technologically driven world; something we can all strive for if only we can figure out how to serve man’s growing need to easily stay connected and informed. It has given voice to political candidates that, in the past, would have never even had the opportunity to run; through the power of the collective will, it has amassed and orchestrated grass-roots movements that have toppled entire regimes, streaming history in real-time on our smart phones and iPads while we enjoy our lattes thousands of miles away.

Potential, of course,  isn’t always a positive; constant access can also mean expanding depravity and danger; a conduit for identity theft and a way for less-than-savory organizations to coordinate and get their messages across, expanding their rank and file. However, this still seems to be a risk most people are willing to take, so long as the internet and its boundless opportunities are kept intact.

But the question now is…are they? The raging debate about ‘net neutrality‘ is complex and polarizing, the blame extending to everyone from the content providers to the broadband providers, even going as far as proposing that the question isn’t one of net neutrality at all, but of net capacity; although this seems a bit of a spin on the facts, to put it lightly. “Let the market decide,” is the popular slogan for the broadband providers that would like to charge the consumer for access that we now equally, if not freely, enjoy; but how would the market decide what it wanted if the little guy, the start-up, and the virtually unknown would be priced out of competing? Every great idea started small; that is the principle that American ingenuity is based on. Filtering every thought, idea, innovation, product, and service through the boardrooms of a handful of behemoth corporate interests seems a bit…stifling.

And stupid. A neutral net is a wider net, catching more revenue and cash flows than the tighter, smaller version proposed by broadband providers and yes, the content providers as well. Clearly there are content providers that would publicly argue against imposing fees for access, who would simultaneously acknowledge the fact that the imposition of ‘pay to play’ would conveniently price out any competition. There is a real, monetary incentive for them to support any move against net neutrality, although it would be political suicide to admit it.

If the high unemployment rate has taught Americans anything, it’s that sometimes you have to strike out on your own and create your own job as opposed to depending on someone else to hire you, or worse, on the tax payers to support you. And isn’t that initiative what made America the greatest nation on earth? The reason that millions risk it all – for the opportunity to develop their own ideas and skills and promote them on the free market, for the opportunity to be represented, to be heard? The internet has afforded millions of entrepreneurs and everyday citizens the ability to do this; to curb it in any way would go against everything America stands for. 

Considering the impact of the internet on our daily lives,  perhaps it is high time that the internet be considered a utility and be treated as such, accessible to all. Imagine a world where power companies charged wattage depending on how much was being used in a given location, and by whom. In this context, the ramifications of ‘pay to play’ are revealed, stunningly so.

Protectionism didn’t work in Latin America and there is no reason to believe that it will work in cyberspace, in spite of how many times or how loudly “capacity” is used as a justification for policies that would, essentially, kill the promise of the internet. If that promise is going to be kept, it will depend on us, and our leadership, to defend it. Teddy Roosevelt understood that competition was vital to a thriving economy, and valiantly fought to destroy the monopolies that threatened the promises of capitalism. Today, we look to an administration that promised us “hope and change” to do the same. That’s a whole lot of promises. Let’s hope they deliver.

Because it is difficult, today, to imagine a world without them.

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