Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Internet Finally Violates NPOV

For those who do not know I spend a good portion of my time as an editor on Wikipedia. One of the core policies that all editors must keep in mind and enforce in their writing is NPOV, or neutral point of view. The policy states that all sides of the topic should be covered with due weight. Nothing should be given preferential treatment over something else. I particularly like this policy because it is a good policy to abide by outside of Wikipedia in real life. No matter what the topic, you should make sure to get all sides and not close out one particular subsection. Unfortunately, the FCC is going to violate this policy at some point today. The commission is planned to vote on a set of rules governing net neutrality at some point in the afternoon. Net neutrality is the policy that internet service providers charge a single uniform fee for providing their services, and that you are not charged more for visiting one website than another site. By violating this policy, Verizon or some other ISP could easily make a deal with Time Warner so that users are charged less for browsing AOL Mail then they are GMail or other online email client.

The primary reason companies are so dead set against network neutrality because it means a profit for them in the long run. But other than this, it is because they are scared. Politicians and corporate hotheads alike are scared of the Internet. The net is the one thing in this world that, up to this point, has remained free and open. You can browse any site that you want, for any length of time, and do anything you want. There are few limitations on Internet activity assuming what you are doing is legal. Such a concept is frightening to many people because it creates organized chaos. Take the recent WikiLeaks scandal: because of lack of control on the Internet, thousands of confidential government documents were leaked to the public. From a business perspective this could mean disaster, so being able to herd users into company-approved sites and making sure only the best content makes it to the consumer is awesome for corporations. Sound familiar? It is the same realm of control that Apple has over the App Store: only the best apps that fit company policy make it to the consumer.

While the corporate side of this situation may seem bright and cheery, all of this is at the cost of the consumer. You no longer have a choice of what sites you can browse. Sure you can still go wherever you want, but now it costs you money, a serious deterrent. And god forbid if your own website butts up against a big corporation.Visitor counts will drop so fast you won't even have time to pick up the phone and call your local ISP. Many even go as far to categorize it as a direct violation of the First Amendment. Freedom of speech used to mean you can say whatever you want; now it means you can say as much as your visitors can afford. The implications this will have are unimaginable. A company will be limited by how big a deal they can make with ISPs, rather than how much effort they put into getting their product or service out there.

The saddest part is that politicians are succumbing t corporate demands rather than taking initiative and doing what's right. Even worse is that the FCC and President Obama have the nerve to designate this as a success! Why? Because the rules that were designed to throw neutrality out the door were cleverly designed to look neutral, but in reality loopholes and other tools were used in all the right places as to satisfy the big corporate voices that are actually behind the new rules. Unless the proposed rules change drastically by the end of th day today, we are facing the biggest compromise of civil liberties since Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in the civil war. For once in American history, free speech has fallen to the power of of the purse.

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