For weeks, I have been trying to put to words together to express the sheer audacity of net neutrality and the proponents behind it, but I come up short. The claims of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it should have more regulatory control over the internet to “protect it’s freedom and openness” are ridiculous, at best. Regulation, by definition, removes freedoms and restricts open markets. Currently, the internet is the only place that is, fairly, free of the government regulations and interventions that have stifled the growth of small business.
So, what is this really all about?
One of the biggest proponents of net neutrality has been the entertainment industry. Prior to the 1990s, the majority of music/movie distribution and sales were handled by retail stores and the entertainment industry enjoyed robust and unfettered control over content, performers, distribution, and the copyrights of the products they produced. In the mid-1990s, technology smacked the entertainment industry in the face. The sharing of music and video on the internet became a common practice between college students, which caused the sales of hard copies of CD and DVD to fall, and brought on the law suits. Over time, the entertainment industry found that the cost of civil suits outweighed the possible compensations and began lobbying governments, through the Recording Industry Artists of America (RIAA) and the Movie Producer’s Association of America (MPAA), to enact laws to protect content.
Another proponent of net neutrality is the federal government, who is currently having a hard time controlling the information that flows through the internet. The FCC cites: web sites that spread social misinformation, businesses that collect personal data and profit from it, marketing transparencies, and rural availability, as reasons for the internet needing tighter regulations.
This is all bull shit and I will tell you why:
- The federal government has had very little to do with the development of the world wide web, the semi-standardization of HTML, the TCP-IP protocol development, the flow or speed of data that passes through an Internet Service Provider (ISP), or the development of a digital economy. Entrepreneurs and business investors created, and continue to maintain, such services as : Google, Yahoo!, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, E-Bay, and <insert your favorite non-government site name here>, that attract people to the internet. The innovation and technology you enjoy, literally, at your fingertips, is due to the very people that the federal government, now, wants to regulate.
- The federal government has the web sites (Factcheck.org and WhiteHouse.gov/healthreform/ to name a few) and the resources to rebut sites that are ‘feeding misinformation to the public’. Silencing the opposition is, dangerously, akin to removing the freedom of speech from the internet.
- Over the years, businesses have tried to cater to their customers in different ways. The personal information collection (or data mining) that Google and many other businesses practice is meant to try to cater to a potential customer, not to divulge information in a harmful way. Specifically because this made some people uneasy, almost all web browsers now allow ‘private web browsing’ so this information is not passed. It’s a strange and wonderful thing to see a market driven response to a market driven problem with little to no government regulation.
- Living in a rural area, my internet options are limited to either dial-up (cheap and extremely slow) or satellite (expensive and slow). While the reality of *my* situation sucks, I would rather wait for the market place to correct the situation than have it regulated by government. I can guarantee that understanding how bandwidth is distributed throughout an internet network and the costs associated are not the “forte'” of any government official.
- Once the federal government can openly establish the fact that the internet is anything BUT private, they can, and will, attempt to become the “filter”. The actual tracing of a person on the internet is difficult, even for some of the best government specialists, if a person truly wishes to hide their identity. By becoming a filter of information, the government will be able to silence massive amounts of people at once. Regardless of your political affiliation, this kind of freedom and openness is similar to the freedom and openness supplied by the Patriot Act.
On to the REAL perpetrators behind this crap, the single biggest proponent of net neutrality, the entertainment industry.
As I stated earlier, the entertainment industry was hit hard by file sharing, but their reaction to a change in the market place was “resistance” instead of adaptation. I, often, wondered why the recording labels and movie producers sued Napster out of existence when it gave them the perfect market place to advertise and sell their products. Then it occurred to me, the internet does not just pose a piracy threat to the entertainment industry, it does MUCH worse. It removes the power of copyrights and distributions, on a wide scale, from “the industry” to “the artists”, quite possibly, making these huge companies and stubborn executives, irrelevant in the future.
Previously, the entertainment industry controlled all formats in which you could watch or listen to media (VHS, CD, DVD, Blu-Ray). When the first high definition formats hit the stores, there were two formats available, the HD disc and the Blu-Ray disc. The quality of picture and quantity of space available were equal between the discs, the difference was Blu-Ray contained a security system to keep you from copying your own property while HD remained security free. Because of this, Sony, the owner of the Blu-Ray propriety disc, convinced Paramount, Time Warner, and several other companies to release movies, strictly, on the Blu-Ray format for copyright reasons. However, at the same time, new formats, such as MP3, M4A, AAC, AVI, and MP4 were being developed, standardized, and distributed outside of the entertainment industry. As these formats became frequently used on the internet, hardware companies began developing hand-held devices, IPhones, IPods, Droids, etc., that used these new formats. So, while it appeared that Sony had won the format war, they had not.
By losing the format war, the entertainment industry lost control over the duplication of content. I am not speaking of thievery, piracy, for the most part, is a minor problem. What really happened is that Blu-Ray was usurped in the marketplace by hand-held devices that do not play Blu-Ray discs. The major recording and movie labels suffered the loss of “potential sales” due to formats that were not in their control. In response, governments throughout the world have been successfully petitioned, by BIG entertainment, to extend copyright laws to, in some cases, 90+ years.
In short, net neutrality is a way to allow the the entertainment industry to become, quasi-legal, patent trolls; while, simultaneously, regaining some of the influence the mainstream medias (television and radio) have on people by silencing their opponents.
Please, do not blindly believe me. Do some research on your own. Read about what the FCC did on Thanksgiving 2010 to many web sites. Read some European internet laws. Here is a non-political site I frequent, called DOOM9. It is a forum for developers of MKV, AVI, MP4, MP3, and various other audio/video formats, but the site’s front page blog archives have historical links to news stories in Europe where this type of internet law has become the norm. I think it is important that YOU understand the audacity of net neutrality and come to the realization that no United States federal government agency should have any more regulatory power, than it currently has, over the internet.