Network Neutrality and The Digital Divide

Ever since the news of a nearing agreement between Verizon and Google, there has been much attention placed on the issue of Network Neutrality. However, there is some confusion around the issue, and exactly what is at stake.

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers will treat all data coming through their networks equally. This is how the internet is run now. The website of a major corporation and the website of a personal blog for example currently load up at equal speed because ISP’s are not allowed to prioritize data according to which site its coming from.

The Google-Verizon deal threatens to change all that, but not for the better. Yes, higher speeds are promised along with the agreement, but with a major catch: the major corporations can pay a premium for a sped up load time. This means that the start up companies with little resources, and independent journalists and bloggers without the resources to pay the ISP’s will be relegated to the slow lane. This is possibly the beginning of a two-tiered internet, and corporate lockout of potential competitors. The prioritizing of information will  stifle the free flow of info that is possible now, and will widen the digital divide.

This opens the door for 21st century censorship. Not in the sense of it being illegal to put out certain messages, but in the sense of if you can’t pay for your platform then you will not be part of the conversation, even online. Once the internet becomes constricted for all but those who can afford to pay for their platform, it will no longer be a level playing field. If the corporations have their way, setting up a site may be as cost prohibitive for the average person as, oh, say paying for advert time on television.  Net neutrality is a first amendment issue. There are new battles that have to be fought, and this is one of them. We should be aware of the myriad new ways in which freedom of speech are infringed upon, and this new ruling is no less serious a threat to that freedom  merely because it is happening in the realm of cyberspace. To learn more about the issues around net neutrality, go to Save net neutrality at The Nation.

Stay alert, be aware.

Marc W. Polite

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