Demand Net neutrality as a basic right

All free speech is converging on the Internet. Can speech still be called 'free' if access to it is controlled by a profiteering few?

The New Year is upon us, and I still can't stop running dystopian Net neutrality scenarios through my head. Maybe that's because -- in the wake of the FCC's sorry compromise, ironically named the Open Internet Order -- I keep encountering confused, misinformed coverage of the issue. You can see the effects in polls like this one from Rasmussen. But don't blame the respondants; blame the questions they were asked.

The questions in the Rasmussen poll could have been lifted from The Onion. They're not about an open Internet; the people responding just think they are. Here's a sample: "What is the best way to protect those who use the Internet -- more government regulation or more free market competition?" Whoever came up with loaded questions like these knows exactly why they're worded that way.

[ See Paul Venezia's full analysis of the FCC's Open Internet Order. | Also on InfoWorld: Read Paul's classic open letter to the enemies of Net neutrality. ]

Those who crave a closed Internet are using the boogeyman of government oppression to sway public opinion, while openly planning to oppress that very same public. They're using the arguments for Net neutrality to drum up opposition against it -- and it may be working.

A call to arms for Net neutrality

As I noted in my Dec. 21 post, the FCC's Open Internet Order is a bad omen for Net neutrality. In response, we need to push much harder in the opposite direction. We must work toward establishing unfettered Internet access as a right similar in status to that of First Amendment free speech. After all, the Internet is the conduit through which free speech is and will be heard for the forseeable future. If we allow corporations to control access to that speech, it might as well not exist.

Look at the cautionary example of television. It used to be that you purchased a TV once and the signals you received flowed freely through the air. This is still true, but over-the-air TV is not anywhere near as common as cable, satellite, or fiber-based television. The majority of Americans pay not only for their televisions, but also for access to the content unavailable over the air -- content produced by an increasingly small number of creators.

Today's Internet delivery system resembles that of cable or satellite TV: You pay for the client device and the connection, and there are no practical free alternatives. But there's one enormous difference: a virtually unlimited number of content creators. The Internet cannot possibly be controlled like cable television, but tiered service plans could make it difficult to access content from anyone except well-heeled providers.

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