The issue of “net neutrality” is not one that can necessarily be examined or discussed easily. Essentially boiling down to a fight between larger telecommunications companies such as Verizon and Comcast who wish to cater their bandwidth allocations towards higher paying websites and the vast range of businesses and websites which rely on public access to their own web pages and services to sustain themselves, the battle for control of how web traffic is handled and routed has become what many are viewing as a central battleground in the fight over information in the digital age.
Presently, service providers are required to give equal amounts of bandwidth and accessibility to all types of web traffic, however on Tuesday, a federal appeals court struck down net neutrality, opening the door to allow for what many fear could be a frightening rise in corporate control over just what information the general public could have access to.
At the center of it all, rests the question; Should internet service providers (ISPs) have the power to decide what web based services and information their customers have access to?
Under the rules of net neutrality as they’ve stood, ISPs were prohibited by the FCC from blocking or manipulating the data transmission speeds of websites, in effect rendering the scope and availability of web traffic fair and even. Though not the final word on the matter, Tuesday’s ruling has (at least in theory) paved the way for ISPs to begin marketing web traffic availability and speed to the highest bidders, putting the access to readers and website visitors potentially into the sole hands of those companies who can and are willing to pay for such.
To put this in immediate perspective, without the rules of net neutrality, while FoxNews which enjoys both its own massive commercial success as well as the multinational corporate backing from NewsCorp, could very easily pay to make sure their content was both the most readily accessible news content, smaller sites such as Truthout, TheRealNews or even AATTP, could find ourselves not only facing a disadvantage in terms of accessibility, but could even find our pages load times lengthened or our content blocked altogether.
On a broader level though, it is widely speculated that in such a neutrality-free internet, where access and bandwidth is for sale to the highest bidder, that ISPs could even begin offering a-la-carte content bundles, such as are posed here in this graphic example of what such content “packaging” could potentially look like.
The potential ramifications of what would in effect be a commoditization of information are on many levels terrifying. Beyond a mere profit-centric value for information and information sources, the altering of news and information access to a widespread pay-for-access dynamic could spell disaster in a society that is already largely adrift in uncertainty and apathy towards social and political issues. Should things like NASCAR, FoxNews and TMZ find their way into basic packages with NPR, Scientific American and more fact centered and relevant content providers being shuffled off into boutique bandwidth tiers, the shameful, willful ignorance of fact and reality that permeates popular culture these days, could become more a matter of general ignorance based on the very availability and accessibility of such information to begin with.
However not all is doom and gloom as a result of the appeal court’s ruling. With the FCC and federal government both still possessing numerous means to fight the decision, many tech and information freedom analysts remain optimistic that such has merely laid the groundwork for a more comprehensive effort in support of net neutrality. Furthermore, the issue which was previously one only commonly spoken of or debated in more technically inclined, web savvy circles, has now come further into the sphere of popular public debate, as the nuts and bolts of equality and neutrality of how we collectively receive information become more evident.
For now, the issue remains hotly contested with relatively firm expectation that the fight is far from over.