A document leaked earlier this week from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission indicates that, sometime soon, the voices that individuals have the easiest access to online might be (you guessed it): Corporations. The document outlines that government regulators are considering allowing big companies to make their online services run faster than smaller ones. This is exceedingly troublesome, as “network neutrality” is one of the most important governing principles of the internet.
In short, network neutrality is equality. Everyone can have their voice heard, everyone gets their say, and no one places any sanctions on who or what is heard. This equality is paramount when it comes to knowledge and information sharing.
Currently, there are a number of organizations that publish science news and information. A diversity of organizations is a good thing for a number of reasons. First, so many organizations reporting on similar issues helps keep content accurate, and it makes it easier to verify data. If one site seems to be exaggerating claims, one can usually find a more accurate interpretation of the data elsewhere. Second, with all of these voices, we can be pretty sure that we aren’t just hearing what a specific business, university, etc. wants us to hear. Equal access basically ensures that one person (or organization) does not get a monopoly when it comes to information sharing (or anything else that the internet had to offer).
But when government bodies starting swaying the tide in favor of one group, things change. Have you ever tried to access a webpage and been unable to do so? When this happened, what was your response? Did you stick around and wait for the page to load, or did you head elsewhere? If we are being honest, very few could say that they waited around for the slow website to catch-up.
When things don’t move quickly, most of us move on.
Not only does this limit access to information, it drives money from the small start-ups into the pockets of those who are already wealthy, furthering the divide between the haves and havenots. The document, outlined in the New York Times, marks the third time that individuals have fought to end equality—to end network neutrality. No matter how many times it is struck down, people keep fighting to ensure that the voices of the wealthy are louder than all the rest. Marvin Ammori, a lawyer speaking over at slate, sums up what the new regulations being considered are and what they will mean:
The FCC is going to propose that cable and phone companies such as Verizon, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable are allowed to discriminate against them, giving some websites better service and others worse service. Cable and phone companies will be able to make preferred deals with the companies that can afford to pay high fees for better service. They will even be allowed to make exclusive deals, such as making MSNBC.com the only news site on Comcast in the priority tier, and relegating competitors to a slow lane. The FCC is authorizing cable and phone companies to start making different deals with thousands or millions of websites, extracting money from sites that need to load quickly and reliably. So users will notice that Netflix or Hulu works better than Amazon Prime, which buffers repeatedly and is choppy. New sites will come along and be unable to compete with established giants. If we had had such discrimination a decade ago, we would still be using MySpace, not Facebook, because Facebook would have been unable to compete.
The chairman believes he can help us in one way: He will make sure all these highly discriminatory new tolls are “commercially reasonable.” Will that matter? No. Commercially reasonable deals won’t be measured by the market. If Amazon is paying twice what eBay is paying, the FCC will only make sure each price is reasonable, not that the prices are nondiscriminatory.
So, according to the FCC, when Verizon discriminates against a startup, we shouldn’t be alarmed, because (while being discriminated against), this startup can hire a lot of expensive lawyers and expert witnesses and meet Verizon (a company worth more than $100 billion) at the FCC and litigate this issue out, with no certainty as to the rule. The startup will almost certainly lose either at the FCC or on appeal to a higher court, after bleeding money on lawyers.
Let me be blunt: Certain companies are already forcing organizations to pay in order to be heard. So who is being heard? Wealthy companies. Most smaller organizations (like this one) are already struggling to keep up. If these changes are implemented, most won’t be able to compete. It will be no contest.
Monopoly is a fun game, but it’s not fun when it comes to real life. We need to speak out and stop this…while we still can.