Monday, November 10, 2008

Net Neutrality and It's Effect on Society

Last week, I presented a topic that was fairly new ( to the public at least), network neutrality. I explained the definition of network neutrality, the concept of content discrimination, who is for network neutrality, who would want to get rid of network neutrality and what is being done in the government about it. Just to recap, network neutrality is the principle that keeps us in charge of what content we have access to on the Internet. Now, major telephone and cable companies want to take that right away from us by charging us to access certain content.

The threat of a tiered Internet should come of no surprise to us. This has already happened to television, why not the Internet? We already have a system in which the price increases for how many channels we want access to, why not do the same with web content? You may be wondering why it took this long for this threat to come to the Internet. Well, until 2005, the network was protected from such restrictions. In my presentation I talked about two Supreme Court decisions that effected regulations on network neutrality. Basically what these two decisions did was declare wireless broadband Internet and such as Title 1 "information services" from Title 2 "common carriers" in the Communications Act of 1934. Title 1 covers FCC regulations that are “reasonably ancillary to the effective performance of the Commission’s various responsibilities” outlined elsewhere in the act. Now I figured to better explain the difference of 1 and 2, I would quote an excerpt from the Congress Report I used in my presentation:

"In contrast to Title I, Title II of the Communications Act, imposes certain specific requirements on common carriers in their provision of telecommunications services. Generally, Title II requires common carriers to provide service “upon reasonable request therefor,” and at a “just and reasonable” rate. Under Title II, common carriers are also required to provide services without “unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services.” In addition, the act requires certain carriers to provide potential competitors with access to their network."

(Defining Cable Broadband Internet Access
Service: Background and Analysis of the
Supreme Court’s Brand X Decision 2005)

I wanted to bring up this part of my presentation specifically, because I remember all the confusion it caused. After thinking about it after class, I'm almost positive I made a big mistake verbally when talking about this. I believe I told the class that broadband went from Title 1 to Title 2, which wouldn't make any sense because clearly, Title 1 regulations are not as specific as Title 2. This is the technicality that is allowing cable companies to bring up the discrimination of content.

Not only would losing net neutrality cause problems for many different things such as small businesses, bloggers, iPod listeners, telecommuters and online shoppers, but it also creates another big problem. A topic Jason brought up was whether or not it was the governments responsibility to provide everyone with Internet, since those who don't own a computer or don't have Internet are at more and more of a disadvantage everyday. On that same note, if we create that same "tiered system" television has, people in a higher class could afford the highest level of Internet access, middle class will be able to afford an "OK" amount of access to the bare minimum, leaving the low class with little or no access at all. This would severely widen the digital divide. This would happen not only because Internet access will cost more, but there will be different amounts of access everywhere, making things very confusing. This is one of many network neutrality really needs to stay.

In our ending discussion we did talk about how it would be difficult to write specific laws on keeping network neutrality, but there is an online coalition that is getting attention from congress on their attempt to save the Internet. This site helps show people how to get involved and inform them of what is going on with network neutrality. I mentioned them in class, but here is their link with more information. I hope you guys enjoyed my presentation on this new topic and now better understand what is going on with your Internet!

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