Net Neutrality

Unless you’ve been living under a slab of pure granite for the last couple of years you’ve heard of the war looming over the Internet. The war has been given the name Net Neutrality and at risk is the very freedom of the Internet.

The war had another shot recently introduced by none other than John McCain, the self professed luddite, who recently introduced the deceptively named Internet Freedom Act.

Net neutrality boils down to this, several of the world’s largest ISPs want to have discretion over what Internet traffic can flow over their wires. Comcast wants to ban peer or peer, AT&T wants voice over IP destroyed, and all the big players would love to make you buy a tiered Internet. What do I mean by tiered Internet? Well it’s a lot like cable television, if you want the basic web like e-mail and Yahoo you pay a certain fee. If you want access to “premium” websites like YouTube you have to pay an additional free. You get the picture.

On the other hand you are dealing with a company’s liberty to conduct business without interference from the government. Free market involves a lack of government interference in corporate matters. The only way to achieve net neutrality is to have the government tell the ISPs they can’t selectively filter Internet traffic. Of course companies are the people who built the infrastructure and pay for the equipment maintenance to keep the Internet going so they should have a right to do what they want with it correct?

Well that’s what it boils down to. The problem is nothing is quite as simple as it appears. I am the last person who is going to profess a need for government to do something and certainly you would expect me to say the FCC should not be allowed to regulate the Internet correct? Here is the problem, the government has been meddling with the Internet since before it was created.

The Internet as we know it today evolved from a Cold War research project called ARPANET. The idea behind ARPANET was to create a communication system that was decentralized and therefore would stand a better chance of surviving a first strike incident by the Soviets. Since no central unit was required by ARPANET to function there was no single target the Soviets could strike to disable our communication capabilities. Eventually research based off of ARPANET was released into the private sector. This research is what the Internet you see before you evolved from.

The Internet itself was made in a generalized manner so it could be broadcast through almost any media. It didn’t depend on a specific cabling system, nor a wireless frequency. This lead to the eventual use of the already established phone lines to send data across. That key item is the reason phone companies like AT&T and Verizon were able to become Internet providers, they had the infrastructure.

Here is where we run into move government control though. Back when the phone system was created the government was quick to establish a sanctioned monopoly to control it. This sanctioned monopoly was granted to Bell Systems which is still commonly referred to as Ma Bell. So from the get go the phone system was controlled by one central agency, obviously not a development from the free market. Eventually a case, the United States vs. AT&T, started in 1974 and concluded in 1982 broke the government sanctioned telecommunication monopoly. In return for divesting their local exchanges Ma Bell was allowed to enter the personal computer field.

This divesture was where our modern telecommunication companies hail from. Originally the breakup created eight “Bell Babies.” Through mergers we eventually ended up with three major players being AT&T, Verizon, and Qwest. All of this is important to note because the telecommunication field has been so heavily influenced by government control there is no way to know how it would have evolved without government control.

So now we find ourselves in a rather precarious situation. Either we call on the government to regulate the Internet, an entity of its own creation, or allow companies, also entities of its own creation, to do as they please. But we can look further yet into this. We need to look no further than the United States Postal Service.

What could the Postal Service possibly have to do with the Internet? Well it’s an example of how much our founding fathers cherished the idea of open communication. The Postal Service is established in Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution. The clause states, “To establish post offices and post roads.” That in itself isn’t greatly useful for the topic at hand but it’s reason for establishment is. As already stated it was created to ensure interstate communication. Secondly it was a form of revenue for the United States government in its early days. Still the idea of open communication existed in the very beginning of this country.

And that’s what the Internet provides, communication. But not just interstate communication but inter-country communication as well. Much like the telephone service before it and the postal service before that the Internet facilitates open communication between people.

It is through this research and understanding that I personally support the concept of net neutrality. The Postal Service doesn’t discriminate what kind of mail you send, and Ma Bell didn’t establish restrictions on who you called. Why should the Internet ISPs be allowed to control the means of which you use the Internet?