“Regardless of how they decide to settle it, the decision that is to come from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals will invariably affect the way you interact with the Internet and change the information age as we know it.”
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Zachary Antoyan is a political science senior and Mustang News liberal columnist. These views do not necessarily reflect the opinion or editorial coverage of Mustang News.
Sometimes, the most mundane and seemingly boring political fights end up being the most important and can affect you in the most significant ways. Net neutrality is one of those topics, and right now there is a battle going on between major Internet providers and proponents of net neutrality. Who would have thought the guys in IT would fight it out in court instead of using the Grid from Tron? Regardless of how they decide to settle it, the decision that is to come from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals will invariably affect the way you interact with the Internet and change the information age as we know it.
Let me give a little bit of run down on why the Internet has its jimmies all rustled. It is currently illegal for Internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast to either block specific websites from being accessed or discriminate in the amount of bandwidth allotted to each site. This rule is based on the foundation that all websites and the content in those websites are equal (hence net neutrality), such that everyone who has an Internet connection has access to all possible information.
This principle is what has driven the information superhighways, it has allowed for the dissemination of ideas and movements, it is how information leaks from people like Edward Snowden are able to keep governments and big multi-national corporations in check through forced transparency. But perhaps most importantly, it has prevented companies that control the bandwidth from charging fees and taxes on how quickly a website will load up. It has also prevented these companies from arbitrarily lowering and limiting the bandwidth of competitor sites. These huge companies want to change this, and the court case Verizon vs. FCC is poised to do exactly that.
Major Internet providers want control of this aspect of the inter-webs for a few reasons. Firstly, they want to be able to force other companies that have high traffic websites — like Google and Facebook — to pay more for their users to access their content. Secondly, they want the power to slow the access to sites that cause their own companies and friends problems. For instance, they are not allowed to block user access to the torrent site The Pirate Bay, but if they could limit the bandwidth such a site has access to for those that visit it, then they would essentially be blocking access. Finally, if a company decides it wants to roll out its own Netflix-like service, it could provide the super-high speed access to its own service and slow the access to Netflix to the point that watching the banana stand in Arrested Development go up in flames would be a lot longer and sadder of a process.
I’ve never been a really big supporter of huge corporations. I consider the court case Citizens United vs. The Federal Election Commission that gave major corporations the rights of personhood, free speech and thusly unlimited campaign contributions to be one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in history. This case runs along similar lines, where the corporation is seeking to usurp current regulations under the auspice of defending corporate and individual rights, but only seek to do it so they can charge more money, squeeze out the competition and control something that has become a staple of our lives.
The ramifications of this decision will affect each and every person that has used the Internet. It stifles innovation by making it difficult for startups to reach an audience. It could prevent you from accessing some of the sites you frequent most, even if those only consist of Netflix, Facebook and Reddit. The cost of reaching the consumer and user for companies having to pay more for bandwidth will translate into increased prices for all of us, and for the major Internet service providers, this just means more revenue for them.
As of right now, there is simply nothing to do but sit back and wait for a decision from the court. But what we must realize is the more we allow companies and governments to control the way we have access to this information, the more censored we are, and the less freedom we have. Lord knows, I don’t want anything getting in the way of me and adorable cat photos. Comcast and I are going to have some real problems if I can’t get my daily fix.
This is Zachary Antoyan, living on the Internet, which isn’t all that bad. Have a fantastic week.