Net Neutrality And The Unfortunate Politics Of Digital
Above Photo: Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images
Net neutrality is important to all things digital because it speaks directly to the governance and control of the world’s most important platform for communication, commerce, entertainment and education. The timing of the debate about net neutrality is especially important because of the explosion in the number of devices connected to the Internet through the so-called “Internet-of-Things” and “Internet-of-Everything.” Once everything is (more or less) connected, the world will change. The management of the platform and the applications will define life in the mid- to late 21st century.
The Open Internet Order passed in 2015 with support from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The OIO regulates ISP control over content distribution and access. Net Neutrality is part of the OIO. The essence of net neutrality is that ISPs cannot discriminate access or service based on preferences tied to payments. There are also provisions about privacy and the rights that consumers have about the use of their personal data. In fact, some governments have already defined “the Internet” as a public utility and have crafted “regulations” around access, provisioning and privacy. Under the Obama administration, net neutrality tilted toward public utility status, while under the new Trump administration, the tiling is in the other direction. Ajit Pai — the new Chairperson of the FCC — has already begun to tilt. His position is that ISPs should have fewer restrictions regarding their pricing schemes to content providers.
Why is the timing of Pai’s reversal so important? Because the Internet will become the global platform upon which all transactions occur. IOT/IOE is the primary basis upon which Net Neutrality 2.0 should be discussed. If everything is eventually connected to the Internet, and dependency upon the Internet steadily rises, the “business” of the Internet should be assessed with eyes directly on the Internet “life” of consumers.
The major assumption of those against net neutrality is that deregulation will encourage innovation, since commercial ISPs can charge certain customers more money than others (in exchange for most-favored provisioning). The “extra” money can be plowed back into internet infrastructure projects that benefit everyone. The proponents of net neutrality argue that without regulation in some form there will be abuses of access, distribution and privacy. What are the issues? Some of the major ones include the control of data, digital rights, digital freedoms, slow-loading, competition, innovation, standards, pseudo-services and privacy, among others. But at the end of the day, it’s about control and the regulatory oversight necessary to enable consumer and corporate rights and freedoms.
Balance – as always – is the watchword, but “balance” is always defined in a social, financial and political context, and herein lies the challenge. Context is “interpretable” and therefore subject to ebbs and flows, which makes one’s positioning predictable and anything but evidence neutral.