10
Jan
10

Net Neutrality and an Open Internet


Monopolization Fetters Freedom

In the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Congress is prohibited from passing laws restricting the freedom of speech.  There was a reason for that, and the main one is that information shared is liberating.  Restrictions and censorship, whether for our “protection” or the protection of those who would be embarrassed or hurt by information being available, violate the principle that through the free exchange of ideas and thought can people exercise liberty.

Oh, yawn, I know.

“Stop with the platitudes and grand speech, Frank!”

Protect the net

Protect the Net

The issue of net neutrality is rather simple, and one that affects my hobby.  In my public blogs, meaning those which have had my name attached to them, access to them from the internet has been unrestricted.  Yes, this is a part of the reason that I blog anonymously for now and it has hurt me and someone else, but it has also given me the chance to reach out and spread my own thoughts to people throughout the world.  I have looked at the sites’ traffic, and seen where people read me from.  Russia, China, Turkey, Australia, Spain, England, Canada, Japan, India, Sweden and at least 150 other countries.  Some of those countries have strict controls over the content that their citizens access through the internet and one of my blogs even received a threatening letter from a Turkish Concern, telling me to cease and desist or they would have my blog blocked in that country.

All I was doing was to spell out the dangers towards education being promoted by a certain Turkish Creationist Collective and child pornography ring.  They didn’t much like that what I was writing about them was embarrassing to them in their home country, and so they sought the power to block anyone in Turkey from reading what I had been writing.  I wouldn’t block them, because otherwise readers wouldn’t be able to see the idiocy for themselves.

Ireland has recently passed “anti-blasphemy” laws, laying fines for ridiculing religious beliefs.  One would suppose that if the MP’s and Lords in charge of the Irish Parliament thought about it long enough they would consider internet censorship laws to protect their religious organizations from such a stupid crime.  It’s not a stretch to think that democratic and open societies would create such laws, as Australia is now fighting the urge from their parliament to restrict access to offensive content.  From the Sidney Morning Herald, December 15, 2009:

The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, said today he would introduce legislation just before next year’s elections to force ISPs to block a blacklist of “refused classification” (RC) websites for all Australian internet users.

The blacklist, featuring material such as child sex abuse, sexual violence and instructions on crime, would be compiled using a public complaints mechanism, Government censors and URLs provided by international agencies.

Senator Conroy also released results from a pilot trial of ISP-level internet filters, conducted by Enex Testlab, which he said found that blocking banned material “can be done with 100 per cent accuracy and negligible impact on internet speed”.

“Most Australians acknowledge that there is some internet material which is not acceptable in any civilised society,” he said.

“It is important that all Australians, particularly young children, are protected from this material.”

He said about 15 western countries had encouraged or enforced internet filtering, and there was no reason why Australians should not have similar protection.

There is some really scary stuff on the internet, bad people doing bad things to other people and then posting the information on how to commit such crimes. Yes, we want to protect people from such crimes, and even to assist parents who want to shelter their children from learning about such things.  There are deviances which are so horrendous that what we want to do is catch the people who are involved and remove them from society.  What we don’t want to do is throw a blanket over them so that we can’t know that they exist.  The idea that cockroaches scurry towards shelter when the light is turned on can also be applied to such criminals, terrorists and other promoters of offensive content.  If we block access to them, people will forget that they exist and the outrage to do something to stop them will not be as strong as it would if their evil were not exposed.

Yes, our children need some sort of protection from seeing the worst in humanity at least until they are old enough to process and do something constructive with it.  And of course, they don’t stay children forever.  The assumption that Conroy is making is that children never grow up and must be sheltered forever.  The Australian proposal is to make a blacklist of sites that they have deemed to carry offensive content.  A block on the URL’s and domain names is how they plan to do it.  And they have no assurances that a hacker couldn’t hijack a domain that has been deemed “safe” and send html through those channels.  Wholesale censorship is impossible based on this method.

That’s government, however, and net neutrality is not about government.  It is about fighting the urge of the major ISP’s to provide speedier access for toll fees to the larger web service content providers, who would be given packet priority over smaller content providers, such as those who blog on self-hosted sites and don’t run through the major channels.  Fox News would get higher priority than WordPress.com.  You would be waiting for me while some dolts read the latest from Sean Hannity at twice the speed of stupid.  Of course, this is not strictly censorship because there is no blockage from this blog, but there is discouragement.  If people wait on the internet for too long for a page to open, then they will go somewhere else.  This is something that I have learned working Search Engine Optimazation with website designers.

This is about controlling access to content with small daggers rather than an axe.  The internet and the growth of broadband has opened the way for entrepreneurs to expand or even create their businesses.  While it has also opened the way for hoaxers to get rich, that is one of the costs of freedom of speech.  The internet has grown to what it is because of open access to content. It has gone from AOL message boards in the early 1990’s to a vast sea of source content because of neutrality.  The FCC is considering rules to maintain net neutrality, and I have found a coalition that will help to fight for the right to have access to information and content and prevent monopolization (which is just another form of government that has no responsibility to us,) and you should check out the site Save the Internet.

A key aspect of this fight is the control of content by the major ISP’s in the United States who would act to censor where Congress can’t constitutionally do so.  The ISP’s are not restricted by the First Amendment because they are not elected government subject to the restrictions of the First Amendment, and so they have the power to block content that they find offensive.  NARAL had sent a text to its enrolled members regarding political action opportunities.  Verizon deemed that this information should not be available to its subscribers, and so it blocked the eight million subscribers from receiving the text:

Last week, Verizon rejected a request from the abortion rights group Naral Pro-Choice America for a five-digit “short code.” Such codes allow people interested in hearing from businesses, politicians and advocacy groups to sign up to receive text messages.

Verizon is one of the two largest mobile carriers. The other leading carriers had all accepted Naral’s request for the code.

In turning down the request last week, Verizon told Naral that it “does not accept issue-oriented (abortion, war, etc.) programs — only basic, general politician-related programs (Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, etc.).”

Today, Mr. Nelson called that “an incorrect interpretation of a dusty internal policy” that “was designed to ward against communications such as anonymous hate messaging and adult materials sent to children.” The policy, Mr. Nelson said, had been developed “before text messaging protections such as spam filters adequately protected customers from unwanted messages.”

But the program requested by Naral would have sent messages only to people who had asked to receive them.

Yes, they reversed the decision, but while that was magnanimous it also pointed out the dangers of yielding to the access providers. They have the ability to block content, and they will develop policies that you and I have no control over, and no input. Broadband in the U.S. is segmented into protected markets.  I am largely stuck with one option here, and that is Comcast.  I don’t like Comcast because they are anti-labor, but I have little choice.  I can use satellite for broadband, perhaps, but it is unlikely that a large enough segment of people in Comcast’s market are going to choose that option.  It’s simpler just to call the cable company and say “hook me up.”  The cable company will say “Sure, and this is what your monthly charge will be.”  And then they may decide to block bitttorrent, and you find yourself without access to large files that you would have legal access to otherwise.

Here is a voice from a student:

To allow phone and cable companies to do as they want with the internet would damage my ability to connect with others and share information. Please ensure that broadband providers do not block, interfere with or discriminate against any lawful internet traffic based on its ownership, source or destination.

Here is a voice from a teacher:

I am a teacher and an artist. I depend on free internet to publicize my dance classes to students. I depend on the free internet to tell my audience about upcoming performances. I depend on a free internet to communicate with colleagues who are working in my field of interest across the country and overseas. I depend on a free internet to arrange travel and teaching jobs around the world (in the past 7 year i have taught and performed in Taiwan, Russia, New Zealand, Germany, and Slovakia all thanks to connections made on our free internet). Please don’t ruin this critical resource!!!!!!!!

The internet is far more than a news and content providing service. It is connection between individuals. Losing Net Neutrality would turn the Internet into a content-controlled medium on par with television for capturing audiences.  The censorship urge will surge as people who want to control what you know will gain power over you.

Don’t let that happen, not in the United States as it looks to happen in Australia and “15 Western Countries.”

Several years ago, public librarians won a key Supreme Court case against a law enforcing content filtering.  The law was aimed at preventing patrons from viewing pornography in public viewing places, but libraries have policies in place to remove patrons that view pornography and to suspend their privileges.  The nannies who censor didn’t trust the libraries to enforce such rules, and so they decided to take matters into their own hands.  The libraries fought such control because they know that in order to block pornography, the words and content filtering would also block patrons from gaining access to educational information on sex.

When the ruling was announced, the conservative talk-radio machine was blasting the librarians as “pornographers.”  The irony of the “small l libertarian,” Jason Lewis blasting a failed attempt at censorship was not lost on me.  He rails about the nanny state and liberal control over what we can read and hear, and when he found something that he didn’t like and thought should be censored then he joined their cause without acknowledging it.

There are people who want to control what you read and see in order to maintain their power over you.  Net Neutrality is one of your guardians.  Don’t let us lose it, or we will effectively be in the same boat as the Australians, the Chinese and the Turks.  The Australians would have one advantage we don’t:  they can un-elect the Stephen Conroys who would censor.  We can’t un-elect the monopolies.

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