Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Letter About Net Neutrality

The following is a letter I composed to my Representative and my two Senators. I just felt it would be best stored in a public place, as it were.

The Importance of Network Neutrality

Earlier, when Network Neutrality was simply an addendum, I wrote to express my strongly-felt impression that network Neutrality, as described, was essential to safeguarding a basic resource that all of America has come to rely on. I am now writing to argue even more strenuously that you must support the Network Neutrality Act of 2006.

There are two kinds of reasons why your support is essential: because it's good policy, and because failing to support it will earn you enemies you cannot afford. Addressing the latter first: though perhaps not a ubiquitous issue among voters in general, those of us who make daily (even hourly) use of the internet are aware of this legislation. Sites that are normally apolitical have become highly active on this topic, and any Representative who opposes this act will be remembered as an enemy by those fighting to save it at the moment, even if the act passes. As a tool for political activity, the internet continues to grow in prominence and importance, and candidates who embrace the internet's ability to disseminate information cheaply and reach out to voters efficiently stand to gain a great deal in the coming years. If for no other reason, you should vote in favor of this act to affirm your integrity with a growing community of electronic activists.

But beyond merely selfish reasons, Network Neutrality is a good policy. It has become a fundamental part of the U.S. infrastructure. Consider taxes. Over half of all taxes were filed electronically this year and last, a process that relies on the transfer of huge reams of data nationwide. Now, imagine if each Internet provider began charging the IRS for the "privilege" of having the bandwidth to handle that kind of traffic. Or if my own provider (Comcast, the only broadband provider I *can* get where I currently live) demanded that I pay extra to access any government web sites, IRS included. The huge saving we, as Americans, enjoy by filing electronically disappear and the new markups go directly into the pockets of the service providers.

Now, in an ideal world, multiple service providers would be vying for a customer's attention and an unhappy consumer could simply switch companies. This isn't possible for most Americans, however. The ironclad regional monopolies of the various providers is very solid, such that, in most places where broadband is available, it is available from a single company that owns all the cable, so it can shut out other companies from competing for its "turf." Without the possibility for a competing service, there simply isn't a free market mechanism at work.

Network Neutrality isn't just about keeping the cost of governance down - it's about protecting a new and powerful sector for small business and entrepreneurship. We live in a country that prides itself on self-made fortunes, but very few venues still allow a newcomer to try something new without exorbitant cost. The internet is a frontier brimming with potential for individuals to distribute their goods and services, working from home and serving anyone nationwide through the internet's wide-ranging and fair connectivity. Turning your back on Net Neutrality opens the door to the worst kinds of abuse, an internet rules by 19th-century notions of racketeering and protection money as part of business, where ISPs can charge whatever they want to dole out reasonable connection speeds. A small business that has to pay at the gate *as well* as on the road is going to find its profit margins shaved to nothing.

The fact is that broadband connections are already fairly expensive for a lot of Americans. I pay about $70 a month for my connectivity. What are the odds that this price will go down if Net Neutrality fails? I assert: next to none. As corporate entities, it is the legally binding responsibility of management to maximize shareholder value. Those of us who have allowed the internet to become part of our daily lives, a resource depended upon for news, reference, and communication, are a captive audience. If prices go up, we're going to be forced to pony up the rate or fundamentally change ho we live. ISPs gain the ability, in a world without Net Neutrality, to extort any fee they think they can get away with, and as corporations they are legally required to value their shareholders over and above the value they assign their customers.

This is to say nothing of the abuse of information accessibility that becomes possible if Net Neutrality fails. If two companies (Comcast & Microsoft, Verizon & Walmart, etc.) enter into an agreement to play favorites, the ISP can simply switch shut the value on any site it deems unsuitable. Websites that offer free open-source alternatives to commercial software can be quashed, operating systems can be shown biased treatment, and there generally grows an ability for an ISP to, in exchange for money from a third party, cripple sites that they dislike. At that point, it isn't just about commerce anymore, it's about political freedoms. A person's ability to share legal but controversial information can be quashed.

I urge you to side with Network Neutrality, and to keep closed the doors of unethical business practice that threaten the efficiency of the state, the efficacy of small business and the freedoms of individuals to express themselves.

It's a rare day when I write Congress about anything. Fingers crossed...


Blogger harlequin said...

autochon, neutral evil deliveryman, thinks that neutrality of delivery is important. who'd a thunk it?

2:57 AM  

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