If you value the free dissemination of ideas – if you believe that democracy requires a free press – if you prefer truth to truthiness – you should care about network neutrality.
First, the ever helpful sports metaphor.
You’re watching a Cubs game. It’s a nail biter – in the bottom of the ninth, your favorite slugger steps up to the plate, and the image goes wonky. From HD-sexy to YouTube-chunky. And the pitch! The audio goes crunchy. The video stops. You miss the home run.
Why did this happen? The Cubs are on WGN. Your cable provider, Comcast, has a competing sports channel that had just begun airing the White Sox game. Comcast dialed down the quality of WGN to give their channel more bandwidth, so that it would come in crystal clear.
Cubs fans run amok. The bars on Clark Street empty into the streets. Riots. Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria! (Best. Movie. Ever.)
If only the network were neutral, all of this would have been avoided.
What is network neutrality?
Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney defined it well in their piece for the Washington Post.
Net neutrality means simply that all like Internet content must be treated alike and move at the same speed over the network. The owners of the Internet’s wires cannot discriminate. This is the simple but brilliant “end-to-end” design of the Internet that has made it such a powerful force for economic and social good: All of the intelligence and control is held by producers and users, not the networks that connect them.
Why should I care?
The Comcast example is totally plausible. Cable television doesn’t *quite* work how I described, but the Internet certainly does. And it’s happening right now!
Neil Berkett, the new CEO of Virgin Media (my ISP at home in London, along with BT) has announced that he considers Net Neutrality to be “a load of bollocks” and he’s promised to put any website or service that won’t pay Virgin a premium to reach its customers into the “Internet bus lane.”
What a jackass! The Internet is amazing because it lets all voices be heard. If this bozo gets his way, new media will become a tool of corporations. Citizen journalism and non-profit media are toast. No money? No speech.
And this applies to everything you do online: reading the news, listening to music, downloading porn, and calling grandma on Skype. I don’t know how to better put it. This is very important.
For more, check out Save the Internet, Tim Wu’s excellent network neutrality FAQ and my friend Adam Verwymeren’s blog on net neutrality, A Series of Tubes.
The Huffpo has an excellent piece about recent news that the MPAA and RIAA are working together with the ISPs to stifle net neutrality, under the guise of piracy prevention – don’t miss it.
Citing piracy concerns, Big Media has made its deal with broadband ISPs like Comcast to make sure its Internet video gets priority A-1 Express Lane carriage over the Internet. In exchange, they are supporting the ISPs’ fierce opposition to net neutrality rules that would bar them from pushing everyone else’s video into the Bus Lane, if they even deign to deliver it at all.