The intersection of Internet freedom and net neutrality
When it comes to all matters web-related, there are two primary news headings ripping through the headlines these days – net neutrality in the United States and the global issue of ensuring there is free and open Internet access in countries all over the world. As time goes on, these problems have become to overlap more and more as the U.S. government's inconsistent policy begins to affect the level of Internet freedom allowed domestically, with the "fast lane" of the Internet becoming a looming possibility, well documented by the media at large. For citizens who haven't been keeping up with the ebb and flow of freedom on the web, here's a basic rundown.
American Internet freedom threatened by overturning net neutrality
New York Times opinion columnist Brian Knappenberger wrote a recent piece that illustrated the crossroads of net neutrality and Internet freedom perfectly – simply put, a non-neutral American Internet landscape would reduce access to citizens who can't afford to keep their websites or connections as speedy as well-financed major corporations. This change would make the Internet landscape for all Americans and make it comparable to Internet culture in countries like China, Russia and Turkey, amongst others.
Although it wouldn't be the government's direct censorship of specific websites, overturning net neutrality in favor of the suggested policies from Internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast would leave the public with little choice but to use the sites of specific organizations in order to enjoy the quick access that web users globally have come to expect. Knappenberger argued that while the net neutrality debate is an undoubtedly tricky landscape to navigate, there is no doubt that a free and open Internet will be more valuable for citizens in the long term.
"We should classify broadband access as a utility," he asserted, referring to a choice originally made in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 during the Clinton administration. "Internet providers should be considered common carriers, just as cell phone companies are for voice access, which they are not allowed to block or degrade."
How overturning net neutrality limits individual freedoms
Though this legislation wouldn't censor anything, the issue of access will make it nearly impossible for startup web companies to make an imprint on the landscape, or for citizens to learn of them in the first place. As smaller companies are moved to the "slow lane," the number of hits their site receives will plummet, subsequently affecting their SEO (search engine optimization) potential, or the likelihood that they will be a top result on a Google or Yahoo search.
RT blogger Bryan McDonald explained just how important this decision will be in affecting Internet freedom policies in other countries, as well.
"When it comes to web companies, US dominance is even more pronounced, with seven of the top 10 (again by revenue) originating there – Amazon, Google, eBay, Facebook, Priceline, Yahoo and Salesforce," he wrote. "Conjointly, there is no European presence in the list and the remainder are two Chinese corporations and a Japanese entity."
Interestingly enough, China is one of the most heavily censored Internet states, a policy that would likely grow stricter when popular websites that can't afford the U.S. "fast lane" fade into the background. It was because of the equal access to Internet speeds that websites like Facebook and Twitter were able to take hold in the national zeitgeist – both were startup websites founded by relatively young people that ultimately grew to become important hallmarks of our culture today.
Citizens and media alike are concerned that the "fast lane" is directly related to Internet freedom in the United States, and that overturning net neutrality will mean a darker future for those looking to make their mark on the web.