Net Neutrality: A Critical Element of the Internet

April 6, 2012
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The Internet has always provided the world with an outlet of presenting abundant creative content for users to consume at their own discretion. Internet laws and protocols in America borrow from the same ideas of freedom and liberty that this country has prided itself with for over a few centuries. Because of these protocols, the Internet is fortunately not of an inherently restricted or censored nature.

Recently however, the United States government has attempted to remove the protections that ensure these freedoms. The media conventionally uses the umbrella terms net neutrality or Internet censorship to reference this issue maintaining equality within the Internet. In early November of 2011, the House of Representatives considered a Republican-backed bill that would repeal FCC protocols protecting net neutrality. Despite heavy lobbying from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and AT&T, the bill failed with only a slight margin of six votes. These ISPs argued that they somehow “own” the Internet, and the power to edit or delete content from the Internet simply exercises power over their own property. Essentially, these repeals would have given ISPs the right to block any given website or application at their convenience.

Additionally, ISPs have been urging Congress to pass legislature that would create a tiered Internet system. A user who chooses not to pay a hefty fee to these telecommunications companies would receive significantly slower Internet speeds. Also, in the case that this user happens to produce Internet content, this content’s stream of data would slow down as well when accessed by any networked computer.

Before judging these policies any further, we must familiarize ourselves with the technical structures involved in how exactly the Internet works. Users sign contracts with Internet Service Providers so their devices can join much larger networks that are owned by these ISPs. Throughout the country, these national ISPs have localized Point of Presences (POPs) by which we connect to these networks. In turn, all of these POPs join larger still networks via Network Access Points. Finally, all of these networks coalesce in the highest level of Internet operations, the Internet Backbones. Typically, Backbones consist of a trunk of fiber optic cables that connect all the Network Access Points together.

Notably, every single device is connected to every other device on the network. In fact, Congress's role in this issue should be to give the Internet an owner; Congress must choose between giving ownership to ISPs, which manage Network Access Points and the backbone, and the average American. Of course, there are complexities in the infrastructure, but each and every byte of information that the Internet is made up of originated from an end user. Not only are ISPs attempting to censor the Internet, but they are also pushing for the right to discriminate Internet speeds. Subverting our most fundamental beliefs of freedom and equality, the less fortunate would be limited in their ability to exercise their freedom of speech through the Internet.

In doing so, these same multinational corporations would be destroying the very fabric of the Internet: fairness, equality, and democracy. Removing the level playing field and freedom of speech that led to the Internet’s rise would necessarily lead to its demise. Again, Congress must preserve the policies protecting net neutrality that have chosen the people over the ISPs over and over since the dawn of the Internet. The role of Internet Service Providers is simply to tap into this vast array of user created content that it should have no right to judge. ISPs are not the owners or the judges of the Internet, but merely its messengers. In my eyes, to give ownership to anyone other than the end user would be an injustice. It’s a service that users themselves create. Congress must ensure that ownership lies in the hands of the people, the true innovators that drive the Internet.

When dealing with issues regarding the Congress and the government's lawmaking stance, we must consider the constitution. In this nation, we pride ourselves on the right to the freedom of speech. Just as the government cannot censor the newspaper, Congress should not allow, in any circumstance, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and the like to censor the Internet or discriminate against certain voices on the Internet. The Congress has the power to change the nature of the Internet: either a free and open environment that represents this country's values or a censored, restricted place that follows the same values and ethical standards our Founding Father appalled. Currently, the right choice is being made, but the future looks uncertain. If and when this issue arises again, the right decision is clear: Congress must, as it so boldly has done, put censorship and the opinions of large multinational corporations after the ideals of freedom and the power of the people.





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