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‘Net neutrality’ is essential for Minnesota’s policy future

This year, a Minnesota law set high goals for the state when it comes to broadband Internet access. MinnPost reports a lack of connectivity costs the country $55 billion a year. Yet if Internet industry titans have their way, that access might not be worth what it used to be.

That’s because the fight over net neutrality is heating up. “Net neutrality” is the view that the Internet should remain an equal-access forum. It’s the belief that web sites shouldn’t have to pay internet service providers (ISPs) to ensure internet users can access their site, or to guarantee their site will load at the same speed as a competitor’s. It’s the principle that websites’ followings should develop based on the value of their content, not on their ability to pay an ISP to ensure their site loads the fastest.

If you think slower loading times wouldn’t affect your choice of sites to visit, know that ISPs pushing these new standards are betting differently, or there wouldn’t be money in creating top tier loading capability.

For reinforcement of the dangers in abandoning net neutrality, ask Google — or at least, ask them four years ago:

“Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody — no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional — has equal access. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build a two-tiered system and block the on-ramps for those who can’t pay.”

A deal with Verizon
Yet despite Google’s 2006 position, it has now reached an agreement with Verizon abandoning net neutrality principles. The agreement is not a business deal, nor does it have the force of law. The Washington Post explains, “The embattled FCC (Federal Communications Commission), which saw its authority over the Internet challenged by a federal court ruling earlier this year in a case involving Comcast, has been hoping for an industry-led proposal to be adopted by Congress.”

How the FCC should classify broadband Internet for regulatory purposes has long been a gray zone; this year’s court ruling cast further doubt, likely leaving the FCC with its hands tied until Congress acts to update and clarify its regulatory powers. It’s that decision the Google-Verizon agreement hopes to influence.

The agreement leaves Google and Verizon walking a tightrope. Out of one side of their mouths, they argue for the importance of preserving net neutrality. Yet out the other, they exempt mobile wireless devices like cell phones, and any new broadband services. ISPs would be free to create fast lanes for higher-paying sites or even block off parts of the internet on mobile devices and to do what they want regarding any new services.

Google testimony at hearings
The Washington Post elaborates on Google’s about-face, writing, “Google officials have testified at FCC and congressional hearings that fair rules of the road need to be in place to keep Internet service providers from becoming ‘gatekeepers’ of the Web, favoring their own business interests.” Yet Google’s fears have evaporated regarding mobile devices now that the Google-Verizon partnership has created the Droid mobile device.

If Congress views the Google-Verizon proposal as an industry compromise accounting for all positions, it could become law. Luckily, some in Congress voiced pro-net neutrality positions, including Minnesota’s own Senator Franken. The opinions expressed in his recent Op-Ed on CNN.com put him firmly against the Google-Verizon agreement.

Net neutrality moves Minnesota forward. Allowing for free and open discussion means more Minnesotans can express their views and share their good ideas, so strong policy arguments can spread without corporate meddling. Preserving the Internet as we know it must be a policy priority to ensure future policy solutions.

Aaron Sinner, a student at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University (CSB|SJU) in Collegeville, in an Undergraduate Research Fellow at Minnesota 2020, a progressive, nonpartisan think tank based in St. Paul. This article originally appeared on the organization’s Hindsight Blog.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by James Hamilton on 08/16/2010 - 12:49 pm.

    Net neutrality should be a no-brainer: permit access providers to charge for unlimited use or by volume if they wish to do so, leaving the end-user to determine how much will be uploaded or downloaded.

    If access providers want to create their own content, fine. Just don’t squeeze out the other guy because you own the pipeline.

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/16/2010 - 03:03 pm.

    If net neutrality falls by the wayside, it will allow already-established, well financed concerns to lock in their positions as the dominant content providers on the web.

    If this had been the case in earlier times, such current stalwarts as youtube, google, facebook, twitter, etc. would never have come into being. Each of those web companies were dependent on their ability to start on a shoestring budget and expand as they became more popular, with financing added as needed and as they grew.

    Without net neutrality, young startups, lacking the financing to pay for fast load times, will simply be unable to compete with the more established companies which will mean far less innovation, far less advancement, far slower improvement of internet content (but far higher profits for a VERY few established companies, ISPs, their investors, and executives).

    Wiping out net neutrality is, of course the typical dream of American Business these days: the public pays more for and gets less in return for what already exists. Without contributing a single new idea or innovation, a few fabulously wealthy individuals get even more obscenely (and insanely?) rich by simply restructuring the system so as to allow them extract more money from those who have far less but have no choice but to pay.

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