Okay, I really didn't mean to use this blog site as a soap-box to preach about what's going on in politics today. However, in this case, it has quite a bit to do with computers and, specifically, the Internet as we know it... and I think it's something that many people probably don't fully understand.
Right now, all network traffic is created and treated equally. By "network traffic", I mean all the activity on the internet. When you read my site, for instance, you send a request out to my server, and my server responds and sends you my blog, including all pictures, links, etc. The complex network of routers and switches across the world doesn't know or care who owns that information, and won't discriminate for or against you or me or any of the other billions of packets of information sent here or there. I believe this basis of "Network Neutrality" is what has allowed the Internet to flourish as the widespread, independent, diverse source of information that it is.
It's really incredible the amount of information that's available on the Internet. I've heard people say that we're living in the "Information Age". Well, what good is information without a useful and robust way to store it as well as a method for that information to be widely and inexpensively distributed to anybody who cares to look?
You're looking at the result of it right here. I can have a web site which doesn't cost me much to host and which anyone in the world can read. When the information is sent from my web host to you, that information is treated the same as if you had just looked up a map on Google; even though Google is a multi-billion-dollar corporation and I haven't grossed dollar one. The Internet gives a voice to anyone who wants one; and if that voice becomes popular and/or that information becomes valuable, then that person may even make a bit of money.
The future of the Internet may be significantly different if legislation is passed which does not preserve this idea of "Network Neutrality". There are certain companies (AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and other service providers), with enormous budgets and fleets of lawyers and lobbyists, who are trying to turn the Internet into a fee-for-service network. If they are successful, they will be allowed to charge web sites for preferential treatment of their network traffic. Google will have to pay loads of money to these companies so Google can ensure that when people perform a search, they get their results in a timely fashion. Google doesn't want to have to do this. They would rather spend their money on research and development of useful tools and features they can add to their site.
I would also be given the "opportunity" to pay loads of money so that when people hit my site they will be able to view my photographs in a timely fashion. I cannot do this. Neither can millions of other sites out there with little or no budget. The voices will still be there, but they'll be muted, if you will.
So, ask yourself:
- When you read the daily news on your local newspaper's web site, do you want it to load much much slower than, say MSNBC?
- When you search for a book on the web site for your city library, or your independent book store, do you want the page to load much much slower than, say Borders?
- If you support your favorite non-profit organization, do you want that organization's web site to load much much slower than every other site on the web? Or would you rather your donations be spent paying off service providers for the "privilege" of faster traffic?
Do you see a problem here? I do. There is already enormous consolidation of popular media. Did you know that the vast majority of all TV, radio, newspaper, and magazines are owned by only seven companies? That's pretty much why the vast majority of all TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines suck. If only the well-funded web sites load quickly, small independent web sites would dwindle and you'd see a similar consolidation on the Internet. That would be a real shame.
I think it's also important to note that these network service providers are the same companies who have handed over detailed records of phone conversations to the National Security Agency. Phone conversations made by ordinary US citizens -- most of which are not suspected of any crime. These are the corporations we're supposed to trust with the availability of diverse information on the Internet? I think not.
Now, there is something you can do:
- Read about it.
- Talk about it with your friends and relatives.
- Inform your congressperson. (Believe me, if you just read this blog, you're more informed about it than they are.)
- Sign a Petition.
An important vote is going to take place in Congress this week. Act quickly.