Some of the most interesting firsthand news accounts I’ve read recently have been from bloggers in disaster areas, such as New Orleans and Beirut.
The reason I can read these blogs is also the reason these bloggers have an audience: “network neutrality,” the level playing field of the Internet.
“Network neutrality” refers to the Internet as it exists today, with equal access and service given to all customers by Internet providers.
But with the resumption of Congress this week, the level playing field of the Internet may be in danger.
Large broadband Internet providers are lobbying for legislation that would make it legal for Internet providers to charge “Quality of Service” fees and create high-speed “lanes” on the Internet.
Essentially, broadband providers propose making the Internet a tiered network, in which customers can pay for faster service and access.
For example, a Web site that hosts downloadable movie or music capabilities would pay a service fee for faster service to their Internet provider, usually a telecommunications company. This faster service, in turn, would give the Web site the ability to download more quickly for its customers.
Web sites and customers unable or unwilling to pony up the cash for higher speeds would be relegated to the slower “lanes” of Internet.
Telecommunications companies and other supporters of this tiered system say “Quality of Service” fees would help the companies recoup the investment capital spent in technology for large broadband service. Also, advocates of legislation say that if someone wants to pay for quicker access, shouldn’t it be allowed?
I am torn. From a business perspective, we are making the transition from an industrial economy to an information-based economy. Economic development and growth lies in information technology and innovation.
Telecommunications companies suffering from losses in voice-line business, given the increasing cell-phone culture, stand to boost their bottom line. Also, with increasing capabilities for video on the Internet, higher broadband lanes could be beneficial.
But at the same time I feel the discriminatory nature of a non-neutral network could prove to be very detrimental, hampering competition and innovation.
If an established company has the money for a quicker service Web site, how would a rival start-up company with a good product but little money for Web site Internet service compete with the established company, as far as accessibility goes?
Billions of dollars have been made from Internet venture capital, with the huge successes of search engines Google and Yahoo, as well as online stores like eBay and Amazon.com, spurring business development and innovation online.
With a tiered system, it is likely that Google, Amazon and other online corporations that started from scratch may not have been as successful without the level playing field the Internet provides.
Also, in contrast to national news media institutions such as radio and television, the Internet, with its low barriers to entry, has made it possible for a whole new culture of grassroots news and documentation to arise outside of the corporate scope; the “blogosphere,” made up of individual blogs on various current affairs and issues.
The Internet has become indicative of the American entrepreneurial culture. And not just in business and commerce, but also insofar as news media, communication and the thousands of other online conventions the Internet provides.
The most influential element of the Internet is its freedom of accessibility; with neutrality the Internet is extremely responsive to market forces and consumers.
According to computerworld.com, the grassroots coalition SavetheInternet.com has collected more than 1.1 million signatures in support of net neutrality. The coalition also counts 26 senators who support a net neutrality law and 14 who oppose it.
It is extremely important to keep the Internet neutral, because without neutrality I may end up reading Wolf Blitzer’s Katrina blog instead (it loaded quicker than those other blogs).