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Net Neutrality

For the last couple centuries, human civilization has enjoyed an unprecedented sustained boom, as the scientific method has allowed for technological innovation at a speed and on a scale that could scarcely have been previously imagined. The rate of innovation and invention is so great now that there is a thriving enormous industry of lawyers to argue over who invented what, and who owes whom what for whatever use of said previously claimed innovation. The rate is so great that products are obviated by newer products in only a matter of months, because new technologies enable them.

Some decades ago, an electronic communications network was invented, and was initially only really used for defense and a small portion of American academia. Over the years and by degrees, the internet grew to what it is now: the largest source of information and interaction in the world's history. People downplay its importance, but make no mistake. The internet is the single most important, most powerful tool in human existence. Nothing comes close. It's had a multiplying effect on technological advancement too. It's allowed innovation to snowball. I, for example, would not have a career if not for the access I've had to it. I would guess that anyone reading this could say the same thing.

Meanwhile, while modern society has benefited enormously from the internet on an uncountable number of fronts, little has changed with regard to the US Government, with respect to large monied organizations being able to effect change through donations and dubious financial associations with individual lawmakers. Defense contractors donate to campaigns to get lawmakers to sign off on a bid or a no-bid contract of some kind. Insurance companies make use of quid-pro-quo politics to write themselves into the benefiting side of healthcare legislation.

It's called crony capitalism. It's what allows companies that don't succeed by normal means(selling products for money) to stay in business. High-ranked corporate executives are golf buddies with prominent lawmakers, and said prominent lawmakers secure a channel of income and political power through their associations with these high-ranked people by making it more difficult for competitors of their buddies' companies to do business. If you have buddies in Washington, you need not fear for the future of your company.

Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner, and a host of other internet service providers are currently supporting actions that will establish for themselves a dedicated tier of commercially-centered internet access, for which the commercial beneficiaries on the other end will presumably pay. The justified concern that most informed people have is that while the ISPs claim that the purported tier will be of a higher quality and speed than that of the current offering, the natural inclination is that ISPs will not spend the money to create this proposed tier, and will instead just slow all the unsponsored internet access down.

In response, politically active groups have sought to establish what they call Net Neutrality. It's a term that describes an ideal world in which all access to the internet is open and available to everybody on it, with no throttling based on content or requests. Several lawmakers have come out in support of Net Neutrality, claiming it will preserve the open internet. Several more have come out against it, claiming a need for faster access to high-demand internet-based services. Far more lawmakers have remained quiet about it, sitting on the fence and watching which side of the issue for which their support will be more politically advantageous for them.

Let me go ahead and burst your bubble. ISPs are already doing this and have been for years. Behind the normal scenes is a pitched price battle between ISPs and the companies that offer services the ISPs' customers want to access. Arrangements are made in which companies agree to pay the premium demanded by ISPs, presumably commensurate with the traffic these services generate and the cost associated with that extra traffic with the overall goal being that requests go answered, and the internet ticks along with little or no impact on the users.

A significant part of the power of the internet is that no political body controls it. The current push for Net Neutrality is attempting to put that power into the hands of the US Government, under the assumption that something as important as the internet simply cannot be trusted to the stewardship of profit-seeking ISPs, whose interests are presumably not aligned with ours. However, given the fact that the US Government has a pretty miserable track record with regard to crony capitalism, putting control of the internet in government hands not only violates the apolitical international nature of its governance, but also just allows ISPs to use existing cronyist channels to achieve their non-competitive means.

A second tier, which is the current issue up for debate, could go either way(speeding up access for companies or slowing down access for you and me), and for that reason I oppose its creation. We don't need faster access to amazon or netflix or facebook. The companies depend on the ISPs, and consume a measurable portion of the bandwidth it costs the ISPs a lot of money to provide. I see no problem with them compensating the ISPs for this. Business to business is a well-established concept, with centuries of precedent behind it.

Net Neutrality currently means handing over the most important resource the world has to commercial cronyism, with a dash of government corruption and incompetence.

11:27 AM, Jun 23, 2014

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