Neutrality, Privacy, and "the Internets"
To use a couple of analogies, picture this:
Many of you have used toll roads or toll booths. Under the new rules, the internet would become a virtual toll road. You'd pay access just to get on the toll road itself (paying for dial-up or DSL/wireless). You'd then pay a toll for whichever lane (website/page) you wanted to use, all the time hoping that the "owner" of the lane (the website/page owner) paid the toll, too. There's no guarantee that the "fast" lane will be any better or different than the "slow" lane.
Another analogy: without the level playing field offered currently ("internet neutrality"), you could be out on the road to get a burger. But instead of being able to go to your favorite burger palace, you find that McDonald's paid for all the roads to lead directly to them. To wit, it would be as if instead of being able to go to Google, Yahoo! steered all the traffic to their search engine. Whoever has the most bucks available to pay off the tollkeepers gets to decide what you want to see.
I mentioned cable earlier. Right now, a lot of you who have cable have probably grumbled at one time or another about being beholden to whichever company has a monopoly in your area, such as Adelphia. Instead of being able to pick and choose which channels you might want or which ones you know you'll see, you have a choice between basic cable and expanded cable, with all the channels bundled together. Without net neutrality, you could end up in the same situation, where one or two or just a handful of companies decide exactly what you get to see. Not only that, but the website owners also have to pay too, so even if you wanted all the "channels," you might not have access to them. Also, it's possible that not all "channels" would be available.
These are just a few analogies out of many-- the bottom line is you already have monopolies in many areas of daily life-- why would you want our gummint to allow a few companies to become the tollkeepers for the internet? There's quite a few companies banded against the dismantling of Internet Neutrality, including the odd bedfellows of MoveOn.org and the Christian Coalition. That's because this has the potential to limit access to free speech. There's no guarantee that in the future, there won't be limits imposed by corporations, or from anywhere on the political spectrum. Right now, the Senate is poised to consider the matter this week, on Thursday, June 22.
It's obvious part of the problem is that quite a number of companies, including the telephone companies and other communications corporations want to have the potential to offer movies and TV over the internet. I'm sure that on their own, companies will work out deals with content providers and charge users fees for movies and shows provided online-- what they essentially want is to reproduce the cable industry online. Where the danger is is in the fact that once you start setting up such a system, where does it stop? Who has to pay what, and how?
Personally, I'm against the dismantling of the current system, at least until there's been far more debate. I don't trust our representatives, who already are well known for giving preferential treatment and a share of their time to those who pay (sounds familiar, eh? Our gummint could use its own version of "net neutrality"-- next area of reform-- our elected officials) to consider the public good-- a good number of them are more likely to consider corporate chief's wishes instead. So for now, I'm for net neutrality. If you too want things to remain as they are for now, I urge you to contact your Senators before the 22nd and urge them to maintain net neutrality.
As far as privacy goes, I'm very jealous of my own privacy-- I'm careful to shield my social security number, my banking information, my credit card number, and everything else related to my personal and financial matters as much as possible. I think there needs to be a balance between the public's right to access and the public's right to privacy. Unfortunately, as early as this week, the Financial Data Protection Act is coming up for consideration. This piece of legislation would override current credit-freeze laws here in California and 17 other states, and would limit rights for victims of I.D. theft. Considering the spate of stories in recent years about stolen information, including the recent loss of a laptop with tons of data on our veterans and current service members, you'd think our gummint would want to do everything they could to protect our information.
Currently, the "credit freeze" allows an individual to place a "freeze" on their credit files-- thus creating a barrier where people and companies wanting to access their credit history first have to ask permission. The Financial Data Protection Act would limit such freezes only to those who are already victims of I.D. theft. Additionally, businesses currently must inform customers if the data they possess is compromised; under the Financial Data Protection Act's provisions, a new, weaker disclosure rule would leave it up to the companies themselves to decide if the risk was great enough to bother notifying you. David Lazarus over at the San Francisco Chronicle has a good column on this in today's paper.
Personally, I find this frightening-- it weakens consumer protections, rides roughshod over current state laws, and does nothing to make things easier or life safer. I plan to contact my representatives about this, and I encourage you to do the same. The internet has long been lauded as a "frontier"-- unfortunately, here comes the gummint, ready to regulate everything, and not neccessarily for the best.