Thursday, November 20, 2014

Net Neutrality: A Case of Free Speech vs. Money Speech

I don't believe any blogger or ordinary person that uses the net frequently is unaware of the consequences if net neutrality is somehow derailed, despite President Obama's recent statement praising an even playing field. But, as with most arenas in our declining land, the major  Neoliberal moguls detest little guys having any say equal to their own- so hope to buy their way to faster internet speeds at the expense of the rest of us.

If I was unable to get my blog up in an expeditious and timely manner, despite a particular topic (say quantum statistics) that may only be read by 10 people - believe me I wouldn't be doing this much longer. The headaches simply wouldn't be worth it. I do it now because I don't have to pay higher than normal costs to get my material published - whether educational or political opinion.

But that may not last, especially as it really comes down to the principle of free speech, the ability of people to speak out on any issues and not be censored or impeded, versus monied speech- which currently inundates and corrupts our political system. In the case of the latter, money can buy whatever it wants and currently dwarfs citizen speech in the political domain. This, of course, is why money can't be considered speech at all. But don't tell the ISP providers that and others that want to take advantage of higher net speeds. If they could slow contentious bloggers to a crawl, believe me they'd do it in a heartbeat.

And if you don't believe this pertains to you, say as a FOX watcher, think again! As has already been noted the scenario of zero net neutrality could allow Comcast (which owns MSNBC) for example, to slow down access to the FOX News site simply because it wishes to limit its competitor. ('Whose Internet Is It?', TIME, Nov. 17, p. 14).

Now, while it is true that the FCC in May did propose new rules that prohibit ISPs from blocking or slowing legal Internet traffic, it did not ban paid prioritization - which to me is a back door means to undermine net neutrality. This "paid prioritization"   means that companies can deliver their particular content faster to their customers for specific paid fees. In other words, the companies gain a technical advantage over the rest of us.

Some deluded citizens see no problem with this, as the case of a letter writer in yesterday's Denver Post, who bawled "There is another urgent need for postal neutrality! Why should my package get there faster than anyone else's just because I can pay more."  But what the meat head fails to grasp is that net speech is not in the same category as package delivery by a business like Fed-Ex, UPS or the USPS. (Which is why the only rational resolution may be to somehow resolve the net into business and speech enclaves - and have net neutrality in the latter and paid prioritization in the former.)  This may be a difficult technological problem, but I don't believe it's insuperable.

If it had been feasible then there wouldn't have been the public outcry in the wake of the FCC's proposed rules which preserved the fees ISPs collect from big content producers like Netflix. They pay to connect directly to the back end of their networks and reach customers more quickly.  When ordinary folks learned of that, nearly 4 million wrote to the FCC to complain.(Ibid.)

Comcast and others claim back end connections have nothing to do with net neutrality, but clearly if the business component of the net is gaining speed advantage, it does. Alas, the FCC's Tom Wheeler also seems to believe paid prioritization over the last mile of broad band ought not be considered a fast lane, though in principle it is.  Thus, it appears the definitions are being obfuscated to disinform the communication landscape - as most tech companies like Google and Facebook don't agree.

Again, the solution appears to be arriving at the ability to separate the net into distinct enclaves - one for speech, the other strictly business. However, this likely wouldn't be remotely feasible until the first real quantum computers come online - and who knows when that will be? Recall that quantum computers use qubits, superpositions of 1s and 0s, as opposed to either one binary bit or the other to code information.

Until then, the only reasonable solution - it seems to me - is for the FCC to propose new rules and reclassify broadband under Title II of the Communications Act which would give the FCC authority to fully regulate broadband. Of course,  the big ISPs will surely oppose this but most savvy internet lawyers are clear that this would be the only way the FCC can have the legal authority to withstand Big Money court challenges.

Yes, in the end it's about free speech vs. money speech, especially as 80 percent of Americans (according to the FCC's Wheeler) with high speed broad band have access to only once choice of ISP. A travesty that was forseeable after the Telecommunications Act was passed in 1996. The long and short of it is the lack of ISP competition means most Americans are hostage to a single ISP. That means any back end moves or paid prioritization effectively detract from free speech.

We can't let this happen no matter how much the Neoliberal free marketeers or their political lackeys scream and bawl.

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