Short hypertextual essay

 

What is net neutrality and where did it come from?

 

The definition of net neutrality. From the Oxford dictionary. 

What is net neutrality and where did it come from?

The term “net neutrality” has a relatively recent genesis, first emerging in at Columbia University with Tim Wu’s 2003 paper on discrimination in cyberspace. He makes a case for the all public information networks to be treated equally. In his view, the indiscriminate treatment of content will be the best system for society (Wu). Wu argues in favor of a “neutral” internet so in order to “prevent centralized control” of internet activity and push for individual localized control (Wu). Tim Wu is politically liberal and progressive in the context of the United States. He ran for New York’s lieutenant governor in 2014 as a progressive, earning 40% of the popular vote (WNYC Data News).  The question of net neutrality is framed in progressive beliefs about who should be in charge of leveraging the internet’s economic forces: the government or the market. This essay will focus on the way people “politicize and envelop [net neutrality] within prevailing political framings deployed by either conservative or liberal ideologies” (Denaris 143). I recognize there are less politically contentious arguments about net neutrality that look through at internet governance through a more practical lens, considering the limits of technology and engineering considerations. This essay’s scope however is focused on the politicalization and socialization of net neutrality in the context of the democratic nations: the United States and Australia. 

Net neutrality and ideology 

Listed below in the t-chart are some simplified ideological beliefs of a person who supports net neutrality versus someone that is against net neutrality. Supporters of net neutrality generally subscribe to left wing politics and social policy, while those against net neutrality generally align themselves with right wing politics and social policy. In the United States net neutrality debate, “Democratic senators linked those who oppose net neutrality rules with those who liked the government bailout of large banks and other financial institutions,” as an effort to undermine conservative support for unbridled capitalism, while “Republican senators framed the issue as one of bureaucratic overreach and part of a trend of cumbersome government regulations, including new environmental standards,” as an effort to highlight the inefficiencies of government intervention (Denaris 143). The politicization of net neutrality lends itself to different issues that represent larger ideological differences. 

 

People that support net neutrality believe…  People who are against net neutrality believe… 
that it is the government’s duty to protect consumers of the internet as a collective and ensure equal access. that the government’s interference in the internet market creates inefficiencies that are damaging to individual consumers. 

 

The first net neutrality legislation to pass occurred in Chile in 2010. The aim of this legislation was to target internet giants such as Facebook and Wikipedia to prevent them from “[making] deals with mobile carriers to offer their services for free, under the assumption that social networks are like gateway drugs for the real Internet” (“Face Off in Chile”). In recent years, the debate surrounding net neu Interest groups like Savetheinternet and Battleforthenet have centered around preserving net neutrality and the benefits they perceive. 

 

What’s the big deal about net neutrality?

Having net neutrality versus not having net neutrality is a highly contentious issue in many western nations. The hallmark case in the western world resides in the United States. In 2017, the United States ended net neutrality in favor of promoting a market based cyberspace. 

Net neutrality is most controversial in capitalist states that have strong ties to what they perceive to be meritocracy. In other words, people who live in very capitalist states are more likely to overvalue the competitive power for the consumer and purchasing power of the individual, rather than the enormous gravity of the government and wealthy companies. 

What does net neutrality look like? 

A side by side comparison of what net neutrality looks like using a highway metaphor. From:

The cars represent internet users traveling different channels of cyberspace. The yellow cars represent the average consumer and internet users, while the red cars represent big business users. In the model on the left with net neutrality, all cars are allowed to travel to their destination at 70MPH, meaning that all the internet users are welcome to the same access speed in cyberspace. However, on the right, in the absence of net neutrality, the red and yellow cars are seperate. The red cars have been granted an open freeway speeds up to 90MPH, representative of big business holding access to the fastest internet speeds. All the yellow cars have been crowded into one lane with a 30MPH speed limit and orange cones blocking access to the open freeway with the red cars. Continuing the metaphor. the average person driving the yellow car must now be able to afford a red car in order to gain access to the faster speeds.

 

Why support net neutrality?

Net neutrality is a policy that ensures that internet service providers cannot discriminate on bandwidth distribution. The Global War for Internet Governance references a popular segment from The Daily Show called Net Neutrality Act that comments on the equity of this internet infrastructure. 

“John Hodgman: With net neutrality, all of these packets, whether they come from a big company or just a single citizen, are treated in the exact same way.

Jon Stewart: So what’s the debate? That actually seems quite fair. 

John Hodgman: Yes, almost too fair. It’s as though the richer companies get no advantage at all.”

  • Net Neutrality Act on The Daily Show 

The biggest fear of net neutrality supports is that “large internet service providers (ISPs) and cable companies will attempt to make a profit using their control of internet download speeds and access to websites” and “at the extreme, companies could even pay ISPs to block the websites of their rivals altogether” (“Net Neutrality is Techno Socialism”). Many supporters of net neutrality believe that it is essential for democracy, because, without it, “corporations will have license to control the content and delivery of information hundreds of millions of people rely on daily” and “it would stymie the flow of information to low-income Internet users, who are already subject to slow speeds and prohibitive broadband costs (“Net Neutrality Is Essential to Online Democracy.”)

 

Why go against net neutrality?  

Net neutrality puts government regulations on the internet that can be viewed as negative interference with the economy. Many people not only think net neutrality discourages innovation, but that the genesis of the internet occured in a capitalist arena and in order to keep the integrity of internet innovation the system must not become neutral or it will forsake innovation.

A diagram comparing the current internet system under net neutrality versus the desired system of internet service providers

The fears that people have about limited access to the internet have been compared to other inventions, such as “air travel, cars, telephones, mobiles, plasma televisions, electricity and the internet itself” (Net Neutrality is Techno Socialism). People against net neutrality believe that, in time, “refinements, economies of scale, and additional complementary innovation, along with healthy competition in a free market” will eventually yield access for everyone (Net Neutrality is Techno Socialism).

Should Australia adopt net neutrality?

The short answer – yes. Australia is a country with socialist tendencies that would be ready to accept government regulation of the internet as a public service. Ideologically and demographically, Australia is a less polarized and diverse area of the world than the Untied States. Net neutrality would be a fairly easy policy to work into the collective thought of the homogenous population of Australia. As far as innovation is concerned, I also think that Australia could easily piggy back off the innovation that the United States is trying so desperately to protect. The flow of information through the internet is almost unstoppable. Perhaps it would be wise to retain net neutrality, sit back, and reap the benefits of innovation abroad as it trickles down towards Australia. 

 

References

Face Off in Chile: Net Neutrality v. Human Right to Facebook & Wikipedia. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://techpresident.com/news/wegov/25090/face-chile-net-neutrality-v-human-right-facebook-wikipedia

Denaris, Laura. The Global War for Internet Governance. (2014). Yale University Press.

Net Neutrality is Techno Socialism – IPA – The Voice For Freedom. (2015, May 01). Retrieved from https://ipa.org.au/ipa-review-articles/net-neutrality-is-techno-socialism

WNYC Data News. (n.d.). Election 2014. Retrieved from https://project.wnyc.org/election2014-ny-state/

 

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