WASHINGTON‚Äö√Ñ√Æ The Justice Department said today that Internet service providers should be allowed to charge a fee for priority Web traffic. The agency told the Federal Communications Commission, which is reviewing high-speed Internet practices, that it is opposed to “Net neutrality,” the principle that all Internet sites should be equally accessible to any Web user. Several phone and cable companies, such as AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp., have previously said they want the option to charge some users more money for loading certain content or Web sites faster than others. The Justice Department said imposing a Net neutrality regulation could hamper development of the Internet and prevent service providers from upgrading or expanding their networks. It could also shift the “entire burden of implementing costly network expansions and improvements onto consumers,” the agency said in its filing. Such a result could diminish or delay network expansion and improvement, it added. The agency said providing different levels of service is common, efficient and could satisfy consumers. As an example, it cited that the U.S. Postal Service charges customers different guarantees and speeds for package delivery, ranging from bulk mail to overnight delivery.
Yeah, you remember the hoopla, right? The Internet was going to be the vehicle that brings the world together, that unites us all across continents and time zones, and that makes our world a more interesting and egalitarian place to be. It was going to be the Great Uniter, where everyone regardless of class, race, or the size of their bank account had equal access to the vast information available on the World Wide Web. This was the concept of “net neutrality”, the idea that all content should be equally available to all Internets users. This philosophy holds that content providers shouldn’t be able to discriminate against certain segments of Internet users via the employment of tiered, “premium” services.
Somewhere, though, you had to know that someone’s sitting in their well-appointed 57th-floor office, thinking what a load of socialist crap “net neutrality” is. To this way of thinking, all net neutrality does is prevent corporations from making their bank off the Internet. If a company can provide a service, why shouldn’t it be able to sell it in the way that benefits the company and it’s shareholders in the most remunerative manner possible? Hey, if the market will bear it, why should they not be able to charge for it?
I’m a believer in the power of free markets, but like anything else in this world, the free markets is not a one-size-fits-all solution. If a free market solution is applied to the idea of Internet access, net neutrality will go the way of the buffalo, to be replaced by a system in which information availability is based on your ability to pay. In a world where information is power, this in no small consideration. What better way to create a community of information “haves” and “have nots”?
Are we to tolerate the creation of a system in which information is available largely only to those who can pay for it? Left to normal market forces, the Internet will cleave into segments where those who can pay will have access to the most information. Think of the Lexis-Nexis model applied by American telecoms, and you might have an idea of what the future just might look like.
Yes, I believe that telecoms, like any other business, have a right to make a fair profit. However, when that profit comes by virtue of segregating access to information based on ability to pay, I believe the free market needs to take a back seat to the greater good. If telecoms refuse to recognize and accept this, then government should step in to ensure that net neutrality continues to exist. Unfortunately, this iteration of the federal government is run by neoConservatives who seem to see their primary role as metaphorically fellating Big Business. Until and unless Congressional Democrats manage to grow a pair, the Brave New World of the Internet may well end up looking nothing like the relatively egalitarian place we know now.
Welcome to the true meaning of the Golden Rule: He who has the gold, makes the rules. For the rest of you…well, you’ll take when you can get, and you’ll like it.