The Internet has created more viable pathways for both malevolent forces as well as forces of justice and truth. Public access to the Internet began in the late 1980s, and fully took root in the 1990s. For nearly two and a half decades now, the Internet has become the world’s greatest playground for new opportunities, business development and honest-to-goodness experimentation. The freedom, autonomy, accessibility and wealth of information that have become synonymous with the Internet have recently become more jeopardized, however. As the U.S. Federal Communications Commission stands to redraft the qualities of the Internet summed up as Net Neutrality, the challenges that this would pose has defenders of the Internet fighting.
The FCC is up against no insignificant opposition, both in quality and quantity. Over 100 Internet-related companies, including top dogs such as Twitter, Facebook, Google and Amazon, issued a letter to the FCC on Wednesday decrying the proposed rules of its latest draft that would alter Net Neutrality. Other notable signatories of the letter are Netflix, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Tumblr, Reddit, and Microsoft.
Strong opposition began even sooner than that letter, with a campaign from Avaaz regarding Net Neutrality earlier this year. The non-profit called Avaaz operates on a worldwide stage and has only been in motion since 2007, but has led the charge on many high-profile and diverse campaigns that seek to bridge the gap between how the world currently is, and how “most people everywhere want” the world to be, according to its director, Ricken Patel.
The Net Neutrality campaign led by Avaaz succeeded in bringing over 1 million petition signatures to the FCC on January 30, 2014. Avaaz also announced a victory on April 3, 2014, when the European Parliament voted to uphold vital Net Neutrality principles after more than 1 million signatures and hundreds of thousands of calls and emails were again delivered through Avaaz members. Even as Internet defenders are continuing to fight against the challenges that face Net Neutrality, the tides seem to be turning in the U.S.
The crux of what both Internet consumers and Internet companies want is a level playing field; an unobstructed space where people, no matter their privileges or powers, are free to access the type of content they want, at an equal speed, without having to pay extra or be blocked from certain content. The rules proposed by the new FCC plan would allow for a sort of stratification of Internet participants – limiting some users from accessing content that other users, who could afford to pay for it, would enjoy without restraint.
It is worth noting that Tom Wheeler, the Chairman of the five-member FCC board, is in charge of drafting the new plan. Two of the other board members are Democrats, and as Wheeler is a Democrat himself, this makes the board primarily Democratic. This also means that in order to pass the new draft, Wheeler’s efforts would have to be backed by both of his Democratic colleagues, Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn.
Wheeler has essentially thrown himself from the frying pan into the fire, because in addition to the widespread criticism he has received for his attempts to rework the status of Net Neutrality, he rejected Rosenworcel’s request to delay the movement of the draft. When it comes time for the FCC to vote on the draft, Wheeler’s plans may not have progressed as far as he hoped.
Five years ago, Mozilla Chairwoman Mitchell Baker and then-CEO John Lilly stated that “nondiscriminatory access to content is what created the miracle of the Internet,” and that such access ought to be preserved with the highest integrity and attention. Mozilla has even encouraged its users in more recent years to host local gatherings geared towards informing people about what makes the Internet such a powerful force.
The Internet is indeed a cloud territory where there are no limitations as far as invention, experimentation and innovation. Individuals fresh out of college, youths who are coding and crafting on their own without a college degree, as well as entrepreneurs have always been free to form opportunities and discover new content without cumbersome obstacles standing in their way. As the Internet keeps growing more vital to the success of small and large businesses alike, there is the chance for the upcoming generation to facilitate the world’s needs. The battles of Net Neutrality are still heating up, and one can hope that Internet defenders fight against their challenges towards victory.
Opinion by Brad Johnson