The Loss of Net Neutrality Will Mean the Death of a Free Internet

Al Franken on Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality Prevents Digital Armageddon

Make no mistake, the day the concept of Net Neutrality dies is the day the Internet is doomed.

In America it is often said that freedom of speech is the most important of all guarantees. From it, all other freedoms flow. The same can be said of Net Neutrality on the Internet. It is the one golden guarantee that every packet of data will be considered equal, and will be delivered no matter what it contains.

It is the very concept of Net Neutrality that has allowed the Internet to survive, thrive, and change the world by enabling everyone to have equal participation. Without it, the Internet would be dominated by a small fraction of corporations and special interests with the money and power to bend the flow of data to their will.

Net Neutrality Encourages Innovation and Competition

To understand the impact of Net Neutrality we need only look at what has happened with traditional media. The big powerhouse brands of the past, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC as well as major newspapers and magazine publications, have seen their businesses crumble as new media competitors have entered the market. Brands such as Yahoo, Mashable, AOL, Motley Fool, Geek Beat, and many others have sprung up to provide faster, better and cheaper coverage.

The flow of information has decentralized power in ways previously unimaginable. Even to the point of destabilizing non-democratic political regimes. In fact, the very physical infrastructure underpinning the Internet has cannibalized itself. The phone lines that formerly enabled connections to the network (POTS) have been replaced by virtual calling networks such as Skype, Facetime and Voice Over IP services. Something monopolistic Telcos would have never allowed to happen had they been given the chance to block access from the beginning.

Just imagine if data packet delivery had always been for sale! A Google AdWords style bidding war for every type of traffic would (and absolutely will if left unchecked) spring up in which those who already have deep pockets can afford to direct all of the traffic away from those who have little or no resources.

In fact, the reason for Google’s success is that the search engine made it clear that although advertising is for sale, search results are not. The community has rewarded that philosophy by using Google above all other search engines. But imagine what would have happened in a world without a guarantee of Net Neutrality!

Google Wouldn’t Existing without Net Neutrality

When Google was in its infancy, Microsoft was the most dominant tech company in the world, with enough free cash, and a corporate philosophy, to squash competitors at all costs. There is no doubt that if they could have colluded with Internet Service Providers, they would have paid to direct all search traffic their way and have Google’s traffic de-prioritized.

But even Microsoft might not have been able to do that! In fact, the ISPs in the early days of the Internet had their own fledgling “search” pages, which essentially were listings of links from a variety of sources gathered together and made to appear as if they were expertly organized – when in actuality they were links paid by the highest bidder. A single link filled home page from a major ISP could easily generate thousands of dollars per month, per link, with hundreds of links on it (a single page indeed often generated hundreds of thousands of dollars per month in revenue. I would know, I worked for GTE at the time).

And that was chump change compared to the $BILLIONS per month that control of today’s Internet traffic would be worth. It is a virtual guarantee that executives from every single major ISP in the world would do everything possible to eliminate competitive search engines and replace them with paid links – and in fact it would be a violation of their obligation to shareholders NOT to pursue this course of action since controlling the traffic would deliver the biggest return on investment. And executives obligations are to the shareholders, not the good of the people. Just ask the folks at Phillip Morris about this.

Trust NO ONE With Net Neutrality

Absolutely no person, corporation or government should ever be allowed to in any way control or manipulate the flow of data through the internet, because no one can be trusted to remain free of influence, and therefor be absolutely neutral.

Governments and politicians will use the flow of information to control citizens and punish one another. Monopolists will use the flow of information to stifle competition. Religions will use the flow of information to choke one another out. Media conglomerates will use the flow of information to control what is presented to the masses. And we will regress back to a time where the only information allowed to reach the people is that which has been bought and paid for by the highest bidder.

The Bottom Line on Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is the absolute foundation of a free Internet, and it is the only guarantee that a treatise such as this one could even exist. Without Net Neutrality this page could be vanquished to a black abyss by any power broker who disagreed with it, inexorably taking our freedom as well.

History has repeatedly demonstrated that even with legal protections governments and individuals alike routinely violate rights, so how much worse will it be in a world without a guaranteed voice? Just wait and see…