Thursday, May 1, 2008

Net Neutrality: More important than Miley Cyrus

We expect a lot from our Internet Service Providers (ISPs): no one wants spam in their inboxes, consumers want to feel safe while buying stuff online, whiny parents don’t want their kids to see anything inappropriate, and copyright holders don’t want anyone to steal their stuff. We want our ISPs to make us feel safe and we expect access to whatever we want online. Like myself, many of us thought that all was well in the internet world. I guess we were all like selfish little children who took and took, and asked very little questions. For me, it was quite a shock to learn that ISPs were taking advantage of many by being sneaky and blocking services and sites that they felt unnecessary for me to use/see. Thank goodness for all the smart people who caught wind of companies like Comcast, who were slowing down peer-to-peer file-sharing for users of BitTorrent. If it weren’t for all those smart people, I would probably still be in the dark on the whole topic of net neutrality.

It was a little hard for me to accept this news about Comcast (I am quite fond of their commercials. I admit they make me giggle.). I even tried to justify Comcast’s actions by assuming that users of software like BitTorrent were probably taking advantage of unauthorized content that was available online. However, I cared little about how Jimmy Download got his illegal copy of Ironman and more about what this trend might mean for everyone else. After some research on the topic of net neutrality, I found that many ISPs are planning to offer neutrality for a price. This meaning that the companies with the larger pockets would be able to pay ISPs more money in return for higher priority and faster availability. Speaking of large pockets, Neil Burkett of Virgin Media can’t seem to get enough money in his. Burkett has openly called net neutrality, “a load of bollocks.” Well said, old chap. Like Comcast, Virgin Media sees users of services like BitTorrent sort of like internet hogs using up large portions of broadband. Burkett has openly warned content providers that those unwilling to pay the fee his company proposes for priority, may get stuck in the “bus lanes” of broadband delivery. This is the same principle behind my mom’s warning at the dinner table when I was a child, “If you don’t eat, then you can starve.” On the other hand, Comcast is trying a less-confrontational approach to standing up against net neutrality. In a recent press release, Comcast has proposed an inclusion of a “Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” to be used among ISPs and peer-to-peer users. In response to the recent investigations being made by the FCC and the potential inclusion of Congress, Comcast’s press release states,

“The arrangement is yet another example of how these technical issues can be
worked out through private business discussions and without the need for
government intervention.”

(I think they learned their lesson when it comes to pulling a fast one on its users.)

With more research, I realized I was much more na├»ve than I thought. I would consider myself a reader; a person who reads books, stories, signs, t-shirts, bumper stickers, but I guess not terms of service and contracts. This article addresses the many ways our ISPs control our internet uses, which we agree to allow in our signed contracts. I’m almost afraid to speak out about the subject, fearing some form of thought police might break down my front door any moment. Even though it seems like some kind of 1984, pre-Terminator ideas here, but it’s not. While many of us live and organize half of our lives online, ISPs are taking advantage of the fact that we need them to do so.

I felt like I should take part in spreading the word about net neutrality. Many companies, bloggers, and even ISPs are taking action in creating a solid army behind keeping the net neutral. However, I will not go as far as this chick in the fight to spread awareness about net neutrality. Unfortunately, I have not been able to create a guerilla media strategy in confronting this topic. Using only words, I thought this topic was worthy enough of an entire blog entry.

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