Yesterday in the GeeksPodcast Facebook group a very long debate broke out over Net Neutrality. Not necessarily over the concept of it, but rather how it should be implemented and by who. Just so we’re clear:
Net Neutrality is not the same thing as proposed legislation to preserve it.
That’s an important distinction to note because one of the themes I noticed as discussion went on was that there seems to be a misconception about ‘Net Neutrality’ as a term and what exactly that means. Prior to Obama pressuring the FCC to begin treating internet access like a public utility, Net Neutrality was an important issue, but now that Obama’s come out strongly in support of it, what was once clear has been confused. Largely I attribute this to party affiliation. Anti-Obama people had a knee-jerk reaction to the news and immediately started opposing the government getting involved with the internet. Senator Cruz is particularly guilty of muddying the distinction between the two with his position that Net Neutrality is Obamacare for the Internet.
Now I’ll be the first to admit I have a relatively poor understanding of how government functions. It’s not that government processes aren’t interesting, it just always seemed to devolve into the political equivelant of professional wrestling allegiances and I find that outrageously boring. Well, unless members of Congress decide to actually start body-slamming each other, which, let’s be honest, would be fucking awesome.
However, despite my limited understanding, basic logic seems to dictate that something has to be done to keep internet service providers in check lest they engage in the kind of bullshit that would’ve made it difficult or maybe impossible for sites like GeeksPodcast or NerdKO to even come to fruition. I really can’t fault Time Warner or Comcast from wanting to smash the Internet as we know it today. Afterall, how many calls have you gotten from these clowns asking you to purchase cable TV or landline phone service only to shoot them down and go right back to browsing reddit while watching Netflix? The proliferation of mobile technology and the web have swiftly knocked out two of their biggest revenue streams in landline phone service and cable television. The latter I haven’t seen explained better than when South Park brought it to light hilariously:
It’s not just insulting that these companies are trying to muscle-in and molest the Internet as we know it to pad their profit margins. It’s that they have the gall to propose changes like this in the interest of helping consumers. They’ve fabricated fears of an infrastructure meltdown to justify making up for losses in one sector by gouging us in another. Netflix learned this the hard way and unless some action is taken we’re going to learn it more intimately than we already do.
Cable companies are not well-respected providers of essential services, they’re inconveniences tolerated for lack of other options. You know it and they know it. Want proof? Show me one other company on the internet that could get away with regularly treating customers like this and not take a serious, business-crippling PR hit. And yet, it’s simply shrugged off after an initial media blitz for Comcast because what are you going to do about it? Go to another provider? Good luck!
Nearly everyone seems to agree that the Internet’s doing just dandy the way it is. Seriously, not a single one of you reading this sat down today and thought, “Ya know, this whole web thing would be a lot better if the things I wanted were chunked into tiered packages or my favorite brands got preferential treatment.”
So since we all tend to agree the web is rad and should remain so, who’s going to ensure it stays that way?
The government. Or rather that seems to be the answer after Obama offered (what I feel are actually pretty reasonable) tentpoles for how it should remain the level playing field that garage innovators and corporations have appreciated for years now. The problem with getting the government involved is that it’s historically moved at a snail’s pace compared to the speed of technological innovation. That’s to say nothing of corruption or badly thought-out policies that might end up being worse for the Internet than the cable companies.
It’s not hard to point to government involvement in business and find botched policies or historic examples of general fuck-upery. However, it’s also not correct to say that every government effort to improve society has failed either. If that were the case child labor would still be a thing in this country and somehow I’m guessing we wouldn’t have an African-American president.
At the end of the day I believe those opposed to net neutrality aren’t opposed to the concept of it, but rather a fumbled implementation. However, internet service providers need accountability and at present while government might not be the best choice to right the wrongs they’re proposing, it’s the best option we’ve got.
I’m not particularly smart and I don’t propose to have the answer of preserving the web we all know and love. However, I am smart enough to realize that as one of mankind’s greatest achievements, it needs to be taken care of.
Do you have a better idea than what’s been proposed so far? Let us know in the comments below how you think the issue should be handled.