Years ago, along with many others, I heard the words that would come to immortalize Alaska disgrace Ted Stevens:

And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.


Hence, the occasional reference to the internet as “the tubes”. For those unfamiliar with what net neutrality is, I’ll try to explain in a more coherent way. Internet providers like Comcast, Charter, Road Runner, etc. sell access to the internet through their networks. If you subscribe to their services, everything you access on the internet first goes through their private property. Now, theoretically, as it is their private property, and you’re choosing to pay to use it, they can make the rules on what you can access. However, historically, they haven’t. Why? Well, they know that if you can’t access what you want using their service, you can go find another.

Sadly, for some, this isn’t an option. Lack of coverage by multiple companies in many areas restricts consumers to one provider, and in some rural areas, broadband still isn’t available at all. Compared to areas of the world like Europe and Japan, the United States lags quite a bit in its internet infrastructure, both in coverage and pipeline speeds. While we’re paying upwards of 50 dollars a month for 5-10 megabit connections, 50 megabit connections are standard and much cheaper overseas. I’ve never been able to find a coherent answer as to why, but government restriction on expansion comes to mind. With that in mind, I’ll continue.

Despite these conditions, internet providers like AT&T and SBC have been lax in restricting content. Comcast took a good deal of heat for throttling, and in some cases blocking, peer to peer network traffic. This is more commonly known as torrent activity, or file sharing networks. Now, these networks are best known for their pirate traffic, although there is plenty of legitimate material that passes through as well. Most other providers do not exert any control over these networks. They’re making their own choices on what to do with their private networks…and this pisses off proponents of net neutrality.

Net neutrality is the proposal that the FCC prevent internet providers from making choices about content control on their networks. Their fears are that in the future, providers could set up tiered systems that dictate content delivery. Large companies and corporations could pay a fee to have their content would be delivered with top priority to their customers, while smaller companies or private individuals would have to settle for a less expensive option that would deliver their content with slower speed. Those that don’t pay a fee could possibly not have their information accessible at all, or at a very slow speed.

Now, I don’t see these fears as irrational, personally. I’ve worried about a similar situation, but based more on political motivation and leanings of providers, that might block out content they find “offensive” or “objectionable”. However, there is a single point that overrides both my concerns and the concerns of net neutrality proponents: the proposed solution is to have the government dictate what private internet providers can or cannot do with their private property.

This is where the whole concept falls apart. People who don’t trust corporations instead want to place control over the internet in the hands of the government. Sound familiar?

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Tags: Alaska