Thursday, March 5, 2009

U.S. Policies That Matter to Everyone: Net Neutrality

An ongoing debate for lawmakers everywhere around the world is whether or not they can regulate their citizens' activities on the web. There is not only the question of how, but also whether it is anyone's place to regulate the global network. (Image: New York Times) Information obtained by the Wall Street Journal indicates that President Barack Obama plans to appoint Julius Genachowski to head the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC is critical in setting the agenda for media regulation; its decisions can influence the global media landscape due to the number of American power-player corporations that it monitors.

Genachowski, Obama's technology adviser, has been a vocal supporter of Net Neutrality and other progressive regulation choices. As I explained in my introduction, Net Neutrality is an extremely important issue that could have big effects on current and future Internet use. Essentially, Net Neutrality is trying to keep the Internet free of regulation. Regulating the Internet could take several forms, which you can investigate in depth if it interests you; but, here are some highlights:

  • Increased Digital Copy Protection

  • Creating Solidified Standards

  • Limitations on Free Speech

Digital Rights Management (DRM) of any kind typically has side-effects that hinder the freedom of paying customers. Copy protection may be a worthy cause, but regulation of the Internet to embed copy protection into every aspect of what we do could be seriously limiting and also invade privacy. Likewise, creating solidified standards through regulation may help developers work with a more reliable system, but limits the collaborative evolution that has propelled the Internet forward.

The threat to free-speech is the most clear threat from governments destroying net neutrality. Existing statues that allow censorship by service providers could apply to the Internet if regulations are placed on it. This means that if Rogers, Bell, Comcast or whoever your service provider is, doesn't like what you're saying, they could potentially use existing laws to censor you. This depends on the Internet being defined into regulations, which could either protect free speech or limit it.

The point is, as soon as regulations on the Internet begin to occur in major countries like the United States, it would be a slippery slope toward a highly-regulated experience. The Internet is often viewed as a democratic medium; whether you agree with that sentiment or not, regulating the Internet will eliminate any hope left for it.