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Why Net Neutrality is Anti-Censorship

Is the Internet safe anymore? Dude, do I look like a wizard? I don’t know the answer to that. People like to think of 10-15 years ago as the Wild West of the Internet, where people goofed off, had bad taste, didn’t really know how best to use the Internet, except to write emo stuff on LiveJournal, watch flash videos, or host a webpage on Angelfire. It was a time of great experimentation without a lot of monetization.

Now that everything is more sophisticated, people are sharing more information than chain emails, and building better businesses than Nigerian scammers preying on the elderly, and guess what: big bad ISPs want in on it. If you need a quick rundown on what net neutrality is, the video below is perfect for that. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

The CGP Grey video compares ISPs to electricity providers, where it’s not up to PG&E to rationalize and say, “Electricity is expensive. Why should I have to pay for someone else using it for the Gro Lights in their closet?” and the simplest answer to that question is “Because you’re not law enforcement.”

So far, in more than one explanation about the end of net neutrality, I see examples of first world problems, where the Internet is altogether harder to use, it is slower, customers will end up paying more and more for a mediocre service. This seems to be the best and most accessible way to express the problems with the merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and the FCC’s awful attempts at advocating for US citizens. But it’s kind of pandering and playing down the seriousness of the issue to just ask: “You like Netflix, don’t you? Well what happens if Netflix just goes away? How would you feel about that?” Beyond that it’s “We’re destroying competition! The prices, the prices!”

neon sign: internet open

Maybe it does appeal to the greatest common denominator, since most of us use the Internet for stupid stuff. But for all the fools that cry “censorship” on the Internet every time somebody disagrees with their dumb ideas, few actually recognize censorship when it’s happening. The end of net neutrality means greater censorship. Not in the way that we’re used to seeing it, with blacked out pages or restricted websites. The information you want is still technically accessible, but let’s put it this way: What if Netflix hadn’t paid the extra fee to run more quickly, and everyone collectively saw that service become shittier and shittier? Meanwhile, other streaming sites who chose to pay were fast and easy to access in comparison. And what if Netflix was the only streaming movie service that had the movie you wanted? How many people would see it, and how many would opt out? How many people would give up on Netflix as a service altogether?

It’s an inconvenience when we talk about movies. There are a lot of movies I haven’t seen and I get along okay. I shrug my shoulders and keep on doing me. But when it’s information, news, politics, resources, jobs, taxes, it gets muddy. Implementing deliberately unequal speeds means ISPs would be privileging some data over other data, some information over other information. It means the resources we actually need might not be nearly as available or visible as they once were. And how do we decide which information is more important, more trustworthy, more lawful, and more accessible? Money. On top of that, Comcast has a reputation for awful customer service and shady practices. The control would lie in large corporations that stand to make more money off what people see, depending on how they control it.

There are a lot of defeatist attitudes facing the end of net neutrality. It makes our reaction to SOPA look like a goddamn fluke. The decision doesn’t feel like yours to make. What can the average person do?

You are absolutely not alone in your complaints. Net neutrality isn’t law. It’s a concept that we’ve been more or less running on for some time, and so far, it’s got nothing to protect it.

 

 

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