On Net Neutrality

Comments are now open at the FCC on Docket 14-28 and 10-127 on net neutrality.

Here’s what I sent them.

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I would like to first remind the Commission that the Internet is not a creation of the broadband carriers, but was created out of a collaboration between the US military, educational and research institutions, and some few early technology firms, and then given its modern face by the invention of the World Wide Web at CERN in Europe. To paraphrase a soundbite from the last election cycle, they didn’t build that.

Even so, broadband carriers are effectively claiming control over something that is not theirs, by deciding what they will carry. Their function is that of delivery of data, not of gatekeeping content.

The Internet only works when communications is free, fair, and unhampered. The reason it is a billion-dollar business is *because* of net neutrality, not in spite of it.

I for one remember connecting to the Internet before the development of flashy graphical clients and certainly before the coming of broadband internet service. I would not have my service be effectively reduced to that again in the name of private profiteering off of what must now be considered a public utility, and broadband providers must now be considered common carriers. My utility company isn’t permitted to degrade my electrical service or limit the amount of natural gas I may use if I switch providers from the main ones in the area; the same must apply to broadband carriers.

Furthermore, because of the interconnectedness that makes the Internet work, the actions of a broadband carrier go well beyond affecting only their clients. Messages are routed through many networks to get from one point to another; one carrier in between myself and someone I wish to communicate with can affect our communications, without either of us being a client of that carrier.

Lastly, there are a number of public initiatives that are put at risk by the loss of net neutrality. NASA’s Kepler project relies on citizen science — volunteers around the world — to be able to process the vast amount of data it has generated, and it has paid off in the thousands of new exoplanets discovered. There are hundreds of other citizen science projects out there, ranging from abstruse ones like longstanding number theory problems to very real-world ones on protein folding and cancer research. Few of these would survive if a carrier demanded higher rates for their data traffic; the appallingly low rate of scientific funding means almost all are running on a shoestring already.

The shadow cast by Comcast’s action is a long one, and the damage that privatizing the Internet is incalculable. The effects are beyond higher connectivity costs for users and content providers.

The Internet is no longer the plaything of nerds and technophiles; millions of people rely on it daily for far more than mere entertainment–it’s vital to our work and our lives now. Allowing broadband carriers to effectively privatize it will do nothing to enhance Internet service for anyone, and will degrade it for millions.

The FCC *must* stand in favor of net neutrality.

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