Contemplating a future without Internet freedom
Since the net neutrality debate emerged over ten years ago and has reached a recent fervor, the question at the front of concerned citizens' minds has always been what the everyday person can do to prevent the "fast lane" of the web from eclipsing Internet freedom. As days, weeks and months pass with staggered progress, tech experts are beginning to consider a new question entirely – that is, what happens if advocates of the fast lane win?
Such is the exact inquiry of AZCentral blogger Joanna Allhands, who expressed concern that more people are not wondering the same thing in a recent editorial.
"Google "Why should I care about net neutrality," and you'll get lots of similar results. But Google "What happens if we do nothing on net neutrality," and, well, it's crickets," Allhands said. "And that's a shame, because to me, that's the $64,000 question."
How advocates respond to a "fast lane" future
Many supporters of net neutrality are taking up this question as a new marketing initiative – instead of focusing those new to the debate on the ongoing, frequently stagnated government debate, companies like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee have taken up a new angle. They released a 3D animated video entitled "2084 Calling – Net Neutrality," a easily accessible video intended to illustrate what life in the Internet slow lane meant for small businesses of the future, painting it as the ever-popular post apocalypse landscape.
Though a little theatrical, efforts like this are critical in raising awareness on the crux of the net neutrality debate. General news consumers are far more likely to sit in front of a 90 second video in today's instant gratification culture than research the FCC's rulings thoroughly, and the animation serves as a gateway for a viewer to develop an opinion and ask more questions. In a discussion as broad as this one, it's important that the everyday citizen have at least a basic idea of the proposal Comcast and Verizon have put forth.
A recent article from The National Journal acknowledges the "2084 Calling" video as valuable propaganda in favor of topping the big business proposal, but ultimately did not address all sides of the argument. Though major bandwidth consumers like Google and Facebook have signed a statement openly opposing the Internet fast lane, writer Kaveh Waddell made the argument that the Internet isn't merely at risk of being an un-level playing field – it very well may be already.
"Large content providers like Google and Facebook pay for content-delivery networks that ease the burden caused by high traffic," he explained. "This allows them to host more photos and videos, and deliver them more quickly to large numbers of users."
Facts like these complicate and already complicated debate, and appears to leave even the FCC in a position of confusion. According to The Scientific American, it is highly unlikely at this point in the debacle that the Internet will be reclassified as a public utility as net neutrality advocates hoped, simply because there is too much opposition from too many powerful companies to avoid regulation and establish a fast lane. What, then, stands to stop such a high-stakes proposal?
As with any legal battle, it's all in the tiny details. Part of the FCC's struggle to rule one way or another is that decreeing the Internet worthy of regulation in a similar way to Clinton's Telecommunications Act of 1996 would go against a statement they've made time and time again – that is, the Internet is an information service, not a tool for telecommunications.
Though the conflict continues to expand, civic engagement and awareness is the strongest method for the everyday person until the next big move is made.