Net Neutrality looks like it is on its way out for the time being, but that doesn't necessarily mean all is lost for a free and open Internet.
The importance of the Internet for business, among other sectors, is clear. The Internet provides a platform allowing a new level of commerce, communication, and connecting with others. It's easy to see why monopolistic companies would want to control the game.
The reason that Net Neutrality is much of a concern at all is because the giant media companies have built so much of the infrastructure of the Internet. This includes the wires that are run throughout neighborhoods for landline phone and cable TV service. The same wires also transmit the Internet to homes and businesses. Having control over the hardware gives those Internet and media companies tremendous leverage over the way the Internet operates. But this is only limited to their customers.
Net Neutrality means that all participants on the Internet have equal access to the resources that the Internet provides. This means that small mom-and-pop style websites would have the same non-restrictive access to customers as does huge department stores, for example. Another example could be your movie streaming service is not buffering in the middle of a movie because the Internet service provider is also a competitor.
Thankfully, the FCC rule changes do not outlaw adopting Net Neutrality. Rather, the rule changes no longer enforce Net Neutrality. Just because Net Neutrality is no longer guaranteed does not mean that we cannot continue to operate that way as a collective society as well as demand that style of service as a customer base.
Lawmakers have also since taken up the charge to reinstate Net Neutrality through legislation. States have taken steps to do what they can to ensure net Neutrality prevails within their borders as well. While state action is much more messy and piecemeal, considering the Internet has no borders, it could also be influential as Internet companies will need to adhere to each of the state's laws in order to participate in their local markets.
Of course Internet service provider companies can continue to adhere to Net Neutrality ideals without forceful policy. The FCC rules can also be changed again by a future, more supportive administration. The ping pong effect might rattle the industry and leave instability in it's wake. Finding a balance will be needed and that is a part of the evolution process of public policy as well.
More localized options, which may be the key, are also gaining ground, particularly among local communities and organizations. Anyone can create and operate as their own Internet service provider. The process can be difficult and costly, however, over time the process can be streamlined while costs decrease due to market forces.
Municipalities can also pick up the pace by implementing a public service option, however, many are restricted due to lobbying efforts to outlaw municipalities from providing Internet service to their citizens. There are laws on the books that restrict or hinder local municipalities. These business favoring laws will have to be overturn in order for municipalities to freely offer Internet service to their citizens. A policy to capture the land value resource rent could also help fund Internet service initiatives.
Another promising route is through independent Internet service providers. Organizations are forming at the local level to provide Internet service without the need for the giant media companies. These locally run businesses and groups are able to operate with a Net Neutrality minded code of ethics that will attract customers away from the media conglomerates and other service providers that are throttling, censoring, or using other forms of restrictions on their Internet connections. Local initiatives in Detroit as well as various rural areas across the continent are proving to be successful.
New technology is also on the horizon that will help lessen the control over the infrastructure. For example, improvements in wireless technology will provide more coverage, human health and environmental considerations, and faster speeds than before. Rural areas will also have access to broadband speeds thanks to these advances in wireless technology. Eventually, the wires that make up much of the Internet will be replaced with wireless solutions, which can also be used by local Internet service providers, municipalities, libraries, neighborhood associations, etc. Utilizing this open-source approach will decentralize the control of the infrastructure away from the monopolists and towards the local level.
The Internet is increasingly becoming an essential resource, and more akin to a public utility. The FCC ruling is just another step in the gradual evolution that is also bringing awareness of our cherished freedoms. While improving technology will assist, attention must still be given to ensure the Internet remains a freely accessible and open resource. We must continue to voice our support as a powerful collective.
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LAWRENCE BOSEK is the Executive Director of Progress.org. He enjoys educating on technology and healthy green living. After 15+ years of consulting in the technology industry and educating in college classrooms, he has expanded his focus to assist in the healing evolution of the noosphere through education and meditative well being. Lawrence also enjoys the natural beauty of the Earth and sky, progressing socio-economic justice, and writing essays as well as poetry. His poetic picture book, entitled Garden Of Love, touches on social-environmental awareness and the evolution of consciousness. Currently, Lawrence is busy advocating for an Open Source Civilization, completing a Ph.D. program, and continuing to be a part of the evolutionary upliftment of humanity.