Net Neutrality – definitely a free speech issue

The following clip was brought to my attention:

I don’t know much about Al Franken, except that people whose opinions I respect think he’s a good guy. Based on this speech here, he seems like someone I should be paying more attention to. Imagine for a moment what the world would be like if the Catholic Church had been in complete control of the printing press (although we don’t have to strain our imaginations too much – just read a history book). Science, philosophy, literacy, all of the hallmarks that took us out of the dark ages would have been completely lost. Medicines wouldn’t have been discovered (since prayer would be all you need), representative democracy would not have become the standard of government, ethicists like Hume, Kant, Rawls, and Nietzsche (especially him); authors like Dostoevsky, Twain, Hugo and Orwell would have published exactly nothing (but on the bright side, no Twilight novels either); Picasso, Dali, Hendrix, and Ginsberg would have been forbidden the political climate that spawned their works.

I’d really rather live in this world where public expression was the secular right of all people.

Senator Franken imagines a world in which large corporations, who have no responsibility aside from delivering money to their shareholders, are in control of the means of knowledge dissemination. We can look to China to see what happens when the government controls the means – they have a socialist fascist political system. Imagine then what a corporate fascist political system would look like. Or, sit back and do nothing, and we’ll find out.

Those of you in the United States should please feel free to sign this petition.

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  1. says

    This is a tough issue. I don’t think the printing press analogy is exactly accurate. People can’t be stopped from using their own presses to print what they want (or make any free arrangement with another party involving use of the press), but the owners of individual presses still have control over their specific presses, allowing and disallowing whatever they want.

    In the same way, I would certainly be against any restriction on who is allowed to buy or build a server and use its bandwidth any way they like. But when specific pieces of equipment are owned by individuals or groups, is it really the same thing to dictate how they can use it? Yes, it is inconvenient and expensive to allow those who own the machinery to decide how it’s used, but inconvenience is not the same as censorship.

  2. says

    Like the radiowaves are regulated by the CRTC, the internet should be controlled by the people and the justice system. So yes, I think there is not only precedent but good reason to say that just because a group owns the machinery doesn’t mean they are immune from regulation.

    This issue is in its infancy, but that is the right time to be talking about it. What are the benefits to the consumer to have access policed by corporations rather than civilian groups? What are the likely harms when information and access are preferentially siphoned to those with the least impediment to access? Ideally, a meritocratic society would allow equal internet access to all its citizens, or at least remove as many inequalities as practical and legal. Setting up what would inevitably become a two-tiered level of access based on means would be an INCREASE in those inequalities.

  3. says

    Radio regulation is a better analogy, but still flawed. The radio spectrum is quite limited, and it is easy to usurp somebody’s broadcast simply by pushing a stronger signal on the same frequency. Neither of these things are true with internet communication. It’s more like cable television, where we do in fact have companies owning particular channels, and they can use the time on those channels however they please (within broader regulations like hate speech, incitement, etc), and charge what they like for access to it. Maybe it would be nice if HBO were a free, community-access channel, but I don’t think that makes it alright to just go ahead and make that happen.

    Net neutrality may in fact be best for the consumer, but there is more to consider, like constitutional property rights, etc. Like I said though, it’s a tough issue. I’m not saying it’s case closed and I have it all figured out.

  4. says

    My counter to the television analogy is that while television is now, and to my mind always will be, an entertainment medium, the internet is quickly becoming much more than that. The world (particularly Canada) is rapidly moving online. Within our own generation we’ve seen computers move from a novelty in a couple of classes (or a computer lab) to the default way in which we access information. My job, for example, would be largely impossible without the internet. Hence the printing press analogy – it will become the way we access information, conduct commerce, and communicate. Internet access will become like literacy – those who are non-accessed will be handicapped.

    There’s definitely no correct answer to this question, but I’m of the strong opinion that failing to safeguard net neutrality will result in the erosion of the open and equalizing effect of the internet.

  5. says

    The ‘Internet as essential means of communication’ argument is compelling. Perhaps a two-tier system of publicly controlled “Essential Internet” and privately controlled “Premium Internet” is a workable solution…

    I don’t like the arguments that sound like “hey, thanks for investing billions of dollars building this really cool technology! We’ve really come to rely on it so… it’s ours now.”

  6. says

    Hahaha, don’t even get me started on why a two-tiered system is a bad idea. Just look at what two-tiered systems do to health care.

    These companies didn’t invent the internet, and they’ve more than recouped their costs on investment in infrastructure. Not only that, they are still free to make money on it under a scheme of regulation, as they do currently. I recognize the importance of allowing companies to innovate and expand – it’s a cornerstone of progress and technological development. I don’t see that barring them from filtering favoured content is tantamount to preventing them from finding ways to be profitable, or a government takeover of the internet.

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