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When I worked for the California University System back in the ’80s, we would attend conferences hosted by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) and discuss how the internet would play a part in communications with the public. We would present the university perspective, outlining how and why we wanted the internet open to students and businesses in order to foster partnerships and encourage growth. Recommendations were made on how to involve the commercial public with this tool.
We saw the potential of the internet and over the years that potential was realized through innovation, technological advances, adjustments in consumer behavior, and changes in communication style. We always spoke about unrestricted public access as the evolution of this global technology phenomena and how revolutionary the internet was going to be to our culture. Providing access to it by connecting people and information all over the world was the vision.
It’s incredible that something we started to talk about in the early ’80s, something that we knew would shape our future and our culture, is now under scrutiny to be locked down for profit. Blocking, preventing, or restricting access will send us back in time almost 25 years.
Recently, Experts Exchange (the company of which I’m COO) released an official statement on the matter of net neutrality and the FCC’s threat of dismantling the Title II framework that protects the rights of users in their choice of internet consumption. A reversal of the 2015 ruling would enable large broadband providers to establish a monopoly over the internet—controlling what users see, what services come in at a higher streaming power, and forcing competitors to pay a hefty price in order to be placed in front of viewers.
To me, the debate for net neutrality goes a bit deeper. It stems back to those early discussions in the ’80s and the potential we saw in this medium of communication for our world. We weren’t wrong then, and we're not wrong now in our gut feeling to keep the internet open. Without the open internet, where would we be with everyday communication methods? Telemedicine? Continuing education? Artificial intelligence?
Consider, for a moment, all those who fought to continue the research and production of connective networks. Without support from government agencies, research institutions, and grants, the early days of the internet may not have moved so fast or gained so much successful traction.
For a little background:
Fast forward to 2001—there was so much that had changed in internet use and availability, and many experts continued to question just how much of an impact this ever-changing and growing tool would have on society.
In a piece published in January 2001 through MIT Press on “Commercialization of the Internet: The Interaction of Public Policy and Private Choices or Why Introducing the Market Went So Well”, the piece ended with considerations over communications policies. They estimated that they would change over time, because “going forward it is unclear whether these legacy institutions are still appropriate for other basic staples of communications policies, such as whether a merger is in the public interest, whether incumbent cable firms should be mandated to provide open access, whether communications infrastructure should be subsidized in underserved areas, and whether Internet services should be classified as a special exemption, immune from taxation and other fiscal expenses.”
These authors believed the internet was entering an era where existing legal foundations would be difficult. And they were proven correct. In 2005, a North Carolina telecommunications company was fined by the FCC for blocking VOIP traffic that competed with their services. This was the first of many instances where large ISPs started to alter the power of streaming for customers in order to place their service in front of customers. Compare this to the way readers of newspapers or magazines only see ads for services able to pay for ad spots—this is how ISPs were able to control user’s internet viewing patterns.
And then in 2015, the fight for net neutrality won out—with Title II implementing rules to ensure all internet traffic travels at the same speed and on the same terms to users.
With net neutrality, we—as users—gain the right to choose what to view, watch, surf for, and when. Netflix will come in at the same speed as Hulu and Comcast. Our ISPs already have a monopoly on geographic regions of coverage, do we want them to also be able to control what we watch and what we can access online? Do we want a lack of regulation on ISPs keep small business and entrepreneurs from making the latest breakthroughs in technology?
Join the protest and support net neutrality today.
For more information on what a reversal of Title II means, check out our article here.