neutrality

Net neutrality is the byword of the month, with a series of important suggestions and announcements in recent weeks. The debate over whether the US government will continue to allow the internet to remain neutral (that is, that ISPs would not be able to govern the content that is accessible to their users) continues to rage, as varying perspectives continue to surface.

In a recent statement released Friday, ten members of Congress, jointly serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, speak to their fellow congressmen regarding net neutrality and the dangers associated with changes to the 1996 ruling.

By the People, For the People

The paper is designed as a shot over the bow for the FCC, especially regarding the opinion of the public and ‘congressional intent’ – that is, the general opinion of Congress regarding internet neutrality. Both the public and Congress generally approve of the current state of net neutrality, and a change would be effectively contrary to the public wishes – a great danger in any democracy. An FCC ruling against the public and congressional voice would be effectively strong-arming the democratic process.

The issue boils down to what ISPs actually provide – that is, if they are content providers or simply gateways to internet content, which is then provided by websites like Google or Facebook. The 1996 ruling kept ISPs in the ‘gateway’ category, while the new approach might be to treat them the same way TV stations are treated – as sources of information themselves. Restricting the flow of information will have serious impacts, according to the statement.

The statement continues:

“The proposal fails to recognize that the internet has become one of the most powerful communications tools in modern society and is home to some of the most important conversations taking place today. The internet has been used by groups to organize social movements from all political stripes. These benefits are particularly powerful in minority communities, which are too often underrepresented in traditional media. However this dialogue can only take place because citizens understand that no one—not their government and not their broadband companies—can limit what they say.

Repealing net neutrality would undermine Americans’ ability to engage in these conversations. Without the protections afforded by the 2015 net neutrality rules, internet service providers (ISPs) will be subject to economic and political pressures to choke off unpopular conversations or speed up viewpoints supported by the politically dominant.”

The paper, while interesting and likely to generate widespread public awareness, does not actually have much power. At the end of the day, the FCC will make its decision, and Americans will have to live with the resultant internet climate. Net neutrality is likely to continue being a hot topic of conversation, though, and the FCC will need to continue to evaluate the public and congressional perspectives before making any final rulings.

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