Friday March 6, 2015 0 comments
It's hard to believe it's only been a little over 20 years that the Internet has been available for use by the general public.
But how many of us can now imagine a world without the 'Net?
The Internet has become integral to our lives, serving as a research library, business location, communications provider, entertainer and innovation disseminator for almost everyone with a computer or connected device.
And who knows what the next 20 years may bring through the wondrous possibilities of the Internet?
But as with all new things, there have been growing pains - unforeseen evolutions that require new thinking about how we hold onto the essential beneficial qualities of the Internet while coping with its growing pains as time goes on.
Big Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner, have grown incredibly rich and powerful with the growth of the Internet by connecting homes and businesses to this vital part of modern life.
In the Internet's early days, nearly everyone was happy with the concept of an "open Internet," in which there were few restrictions on its use or pricing. It was an example of the democratization of technology, benefiting everyone more or less equally.
But over time, the ISPs began to realize they could charge more to their bigger, wealthier content providers for different Internet access speeds.
And of course those ever-increasing higher costs could simply be passed on to the content providers' customers - Jane and Joe Sixpack, i.e., you and me.
Eventually, something had to be done to decide if the Internet would continue to evolve into something the big ISPs would rule like kings and everyone would have to accept what they were offering, or remain an accessible and open marketplace of ideas, services and products where everyone could expect to be treated equally.
On Feb. 26, that question was apparently answered as the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2, on Democrat-Republican party lines, to come down in favor of the concept of "net neutrality."
For net neutrality proponents, this meant keeping the Internet open and free from ISPs wielding a heavy hand over the future of Internet access and speed of use.
For opponents, it meant "big government" was going to excessively regulate their lucrative business model, throwing another monkey wrench into "free enterprise."
To be fair, those who invested in the ISPs and the infrastructure they built to help create the Internet have a right to expect a reasonable profit from their endeavors.
But it doesn't give them the right to exercise immense control over businesses and individuals who rely on the Internet almost daily.
We applaud FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and his fellow commissioners when they ruled in favor of net neutrality.
As Wheeler said that day: "This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech."
We agree, and we also agree with President Obama - who pushed for net neutrality - when he said that the Internet should indeed be regulated the same as the telephone industry was in its time.
"It is common sense that the same philosophy should guide any service that is based on the transmission of information, whether it's a phone call or a packet of data."
The Big ISP providers have vowed to fight net neutrality in the courts, and the FCC's ruling is far from a done deal at this point.
But we hope the letters written to the FCC prior to the Feb. 26 vote - a record 4 million mostly written by everyday Americans urging the commission to come down on the side of net neutrality - will help guide the courts to do what is right for the future of such a basic and necessary service in the 21st century.