Of bits and Big Brother

What’s the deal with net neutrality?

Artwork: Steve Sack

By Sarah Sidlow

Thing to know: net neutrality. You may remember this from a few years ago, when President Obama formally submitted his support for it. Or recently, when President Trump’s FCC chairman suggested, instead, to take a weed whacker to it.

According to Google—one of the big companies being asked to testify on Capitol Hill next month—net neutrality is “the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.”

New York Times contributor Neil Irwin explained it this way: “Is access to the Internet more like access to electricity or more like cable television service?”

Proponents of net neutrality say the internet is like electricity. It’s a necessary component of life in a 21st century economy and is basically essential for both work and daily life. Therefore, the content you get via the internet should be as easily accessible as your electricity. But, since it doesn’t make sense for the electric company to manage our internet access, that job would be left up to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Lots of people also view this as a way to rein in the wild west of the web, which can get a little dark sometimes. Remember that recent Blue Whale Challenge—the “internet game” that has been linked to hundreds of teen suicides around the world? We would probably have been better off if that never existed.

So who’s against net neutrality? Cable companies, for one, who say the internet would be way better if you opened up to the wild world of business. Example: Maybe Netflix should have to pay for the ability to use the obscene bandwidth it requires to stream those oh-so-bingeable shows. In this version of the story, if Netflix doesn’t pay up, your internet provider would be able to throttle the speed with which you access Making a Murderer—or possibly kill it completely. The non-net neutrality crowd also argues that a little healthy competition invites more creativity and innovation. Because HBO is better than PBS.

The bigger issue, though, is the role of government in all of this. If everyone had equal access to internet, government would be tasked with cutting the pie into equal slices. And some people are just not down with giving the government a knife of that size. They argue that by handing the reins to the FCC, rather than to the free market, we open up the door for more and more regulation down the road. Example: Now, we’re not allowed to stream Game of Thrones because it might make us want to stage an uprising. Helloooo, Big Brother.

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Question of the Week: Should access to the internet be equal?

Equality on the airwaves

Net neutrality is important for ‘the little man’

By Patrick Bittner

Throughout the history of the United States, technology has been a major driving factor for the exceptionalism we seem to have experienced.  From the cotton gin to the steam boat, the telegraph to the lightbulb, and the automobile to the space shuttle, how we have adapted to the use of technology has shaped the way not only our economy but also our very identity has developed. Above all else the oversight and regulation that has come with these technologies has created an environment of growth and equality among the general population and allowed that population to effectively adapt to and use the ever-evolving industries present on this American landscape. The advent of what is possibly the greatest technology, the internet, has created problems that were unforeseen in other industries. Chief among these is the idea that access to the breadth of knowledge that is the World Wide Web should be limited by those corporations who provide the public access to it.  This could not be further from acceptable.

When electricity first came to the American heartland, when farms and other “in-between” places were granted the right to enter the modern age, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act to protect the industry and, more importantly, the public. It stipulated that power must be run to any and all consumers who wanted it, and at the cost of the utility. This spread industry and modernity to the farthest reaches of the continent, all the while guaranteeing electric companies unimagined numbers of new customers. This created the largest network of powered homes and businesses the world had ever seen, while also creating massive power generation and supply companies that, in turn, created thousands of jobs and monumental infrastructure projects, including such sites as Hoover Dam. All the while, both industry and consumers were benefitting in enormous ways.

While we may take the convenience of electricity for granted, it took years and millions of dollars to achieve. And although it may seem trivial that Congress needed to pass a law to ensure that the country was electrified, the sheer force of politics required to do so is astonishing.  That being said, the benefits have clearly outweighed the costs.  What then, would be the next utility required such effort to secure? The information superhighway.

Access to the internet should be treated as a utility. It is a service provided by a company to the public, but it faces, or should face, a decent amount of regulation to ensure that the public is protected from certain unacceptable business practices of the providers. If a business and a private citizen both pay for internet access, they should receive the same service, period. And each of those entities should be able to access all corners of the internet, a service they pay for, equally, period.  It would be unreasonable for the electric companies to allow you more power in your home for mundane things such as light bulbs and vacuum cleaners, but restrict how much power you use for a computer or television.  This is what the internet providers are arguing is a reasonable thing to do with internet access.  They want to give consumers full access to sites such as banks and libraries, but restrict access to Netflix and HBO. This boils down to the fact that data providers do not want to upgrade their infrastructures to meet the demand of consumers, which to any logical and sane person, comes off as complete bogus. It is the responsibility of the internet providers to fulfill their end of the deal, give the consumers, the very people who pay hard earned money, access to the internet in an equal way.

Ultimately, it will take an act of Congress to ensure the equality of the airwaves. To this end, I urge all readers to contact their representatives and tell them what you want: fair and equal treatment from a service you pay for. While it may seem like a less-than-urgent problem given the current political climate, this issue is one that affects every person in this country. It will affect our children, our grandchildren, and generations to come, and it will affect them in ways we cannot possibly imagine right now.

As perhaps our greatest leader reflected in 1861, the purpose of government is “to elevate the condition of men; to lift artificial weights from all shoulders; to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.” I’m sure even President Lincoln could not imagine the implications and impact the internet has had on our lives, but I am sure that he would want all Americans to be granted equal access to this tool which has taken an ever larger role in the “race of life.”

Reach DCP freelance writer Patrick Bittner at PatrickBittner@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Laissez-faire internet

Big Brother should mind his own business

By Missy Mae Walters

Most people’s eyes glaze over when you mention net neutrality. It is a concept even the most knowledgeable techies have trouble explaining. For good reason, too. It makes no sense.

“Neutrality” sure sounds like a nice word but it’s anything but neutral. Its lack of impartiality is amusing. The fact is the internet is already equal; we pay for the level of services and quality of those services we want. Instead, we should all be concerned with the reason why government wants to insert itself into the position of controlling the internet industry and making it unequal.

The large internet providers, like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, are being demonized by supporters of net neutrality for blocking content. Opponents say these companies are controlling what we say and the data we receive. Instead they think government will make the internet better for everyone and this alleged censorship will go away.

When it comes down to it, the companies who are blocking sites are doing so because it’s a matter of bandwidth. Websites that demand greater streaming capabilities and more bandwidth create havoc on the quality of the services provided to the rest of us. If you are someone who spends the evening streaming Netflix and YouTube or gaming—higher bandwidth is needed. It’s pretty simple. Those who want more access pay more for the level of service they desire.

When I’m driving on I-75 through downtown Dayton during rush hour, I expect congestion. It’s just a reality. Everyone has an equal right to sit in traffic at rush hour. If we lived in an area with toll roads, I might get home a lot quicker. I would be willing to pay more for faster access to where I am going. Now envision the internet as the interstate. We currently have equality. If you want a better service, you pay more. I pay more for internet because I want to see the materials I am searching for faster.

People who are unhappy with their internet providers should divorce them and find a new provider who meets their needs. Simple economics fixes the current situation some find themselves in.

For those out there who say there is no choice, you need to look at your local government. Local governments possess the jurisdiction and discretion to decide whose services you receive. It’s not internet providers fault, but a decision made by your local city council. Until only about two years ago, I had this issue with only one provider. Then, AT&T finally was granted access into my neighborhood to run lines. Now I have two choices and it has made all the difference in the world.

This normal exchange of money for better services will change drastically if the internet is handed over to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Private provider competition would be squashed. Not only would our services suffer but also the limitless amount of information on the web might not be so limitless anymore.

For supporters of a government take-over of the internet: let’s get something straight. Government has a history of swooping in and regulating industries that are running perfectly fine—and then ruining them. A perfect example would be the railroad industry, which at one time was the circulation of our economy. Government took over the railroads in 1887 through the Interstate Commerce Act. A little over a century later, support for deregulation during the 1970s pumped just enough life back into the failed industry to allow it to survive.

Free markets made sure the railroad industry was successful, and this is currently working for the Internet. Regulations instituted by government lead to a declining product and less competition. Let’s face another fact: Abuses almost always evolve when the government gets involved. The internet is an industry that has only existed for a quarter of a century but has changed the way the world does business. Just like the railroads a century ago, the internet is now the circulation of our economy. If it fails, something will have to take its place or our economy will suffer.

An open, free market Internet system is the only way for growth in competition and investment. A heavily regulated Internet coordinated by Uncle Sam, if net neutrality succeeds, will only destroy the future opportunities and the unprecedented growth our economy needs.

When it comes down to it, the choice is between the equal access that private companies provide and market control by faceless bureaucrats in Washington. Whom would you trust with the Internet?

My vote is to allow the market to continue growing under the wing of private enterprises such as Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. There’s no telling the level of growth our economy could see as a result.

Missy Mae Walters serves as the senior associate of campaigns and public affairs at JSN & Associates. Walters served as the regional political director for the Trump for
President Campaign in Ohio and is a former executive director of the Montgomery County Republican Party. Reach her at MissyMaeWalters@DaytonCityPaper.com.


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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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