FCC's Regulations for Net Neutrality - Good or Bad?
As described in this Wall Street Journal article and many others on the Internet, the FCC is planning to stronger regulate the Internet in the future. There will be an important vote this week, and a lot of Democratic politicians are leaning on the democratic members of the FCC board to vote for the proposal of its chairman.
There are also strives by several countries - China, Brazil, South Africa and others to give the UN oversight over the Internet. Other countries - Australia, Germany, and currently the UK - have discussed or are discussing legislation that would allow censorship of the Internet for their own citizens.
What effect will this have to the common Internet user or Open Democracy, Open Source/FLOSS or other open projects on the Internet?
Internet neutrality is currently a code word, which can be interpreted in several ways. Usually, it means that Internet provider, in particular at the edges on the Internet are required to act in non-discriminatory ways to any kind of Internet traffic that a user might pursue. This is in particular an issue where Corporations own both, content that is provided on the Internet, and the broadband infrastructure to the customers. Under those circumstances, it is easy to priorities their own content and slow down the content of the competition via mechanisms of traffic shaping.
Or broadband companies could engage in a form of extortion as it already occurred in the UK, when broadband providers started to argue that they should be compensated by the BBC for the traffic that is going through their networks due to BBCs multi-media offerings on their website.
Obviously, it would be better for the consumer and enhance the possibility of competition in the high-bandwidth offerings like Video on Demand if their is fair competition. Monopolies are almost always bad for the consumer and create environments of artificially inflated prices if not regulated. However, regulation has its own problem. Regulation often prevents small companies to participate in the market, stifles innovation, and creates again a monopolistic market.
Furthermore, history - in particular recent history - has shown that government bodies placed with the burden - or is it really an opportunity? - of regulation can easily be used to misuse the powers given to them.
Regulating the Internet in the same way has TV broadcasters are regulated would give the opportunity for governments to censor the Internet in the same way, countries with high restrictions in freedom of press, and freedom of speech are already able to censor the Internet for their citizens. China and Iran come to mind, Venezuela is also on the verge of passing such legislation.
As soon as the necessary infrastructure is in place, it will happen, there is no doubt. It is not a question of if, but a question of when. The US government already today tries to prevent government employees and even students to read information published by wikileaks and even news organisations reporting about those leaks. I have no doubt, if there would have been the infrastructure in place to block all citizens to such information, it would have been used.
However, previous discussions about this topic in Australia and Germany have shown one particular problem with this kind of Internet censorship. It does not work for netizens that have enough knowledge to circumvent some of the crude technologies trying to prevent access to censored materials. This is the point were FLOSS software comes into play. If the users' devices can be jailed to only use "approved software" and the corporations of the approved software can be leaned on like Mastercard and Visa in the wikileaks responses by US politicians, then it is even harder for knowledgeable individuals to get around the Internet censorship put in place.
Due to those reasons, all those issues have to be seen as one and taken in context. DRM and jailing of devices can be used in a broader scheme of attempts by governments to censor information that is available to their citizens. And even if their is no fear that a current government would misuse such powers today, history has shown that governments change and the only good prevention of totalitarian governments is to prevent any government to have too much power in the first place.
Because of these reason, citizens should make their governments aware that they do not agree with legislations of such kind. This is true for the FCC's attempt to assume Internet regulation through its current attempt. In fact the real issue of Internet neutrality is one of anti-trust and not Internet regulation. However, it is also necessary to make to clear to governments like the Canadian government, that strong DRM legislations like C-32 are dangerous for the future of their citizens - if one want to be dramatic, it could be called an issue of national security to defeat C-32.
Hopefully, more and more citizens will understand the problematic of theses issues and make their voices heard - before their voices are muted through censorship.