Accuracy in Media

When net neutrality first gained national attention several years ago, the discussion
focused on ensuring equality for all sites from the differing internet
providers. For example, Google couldn’t pay Comcast to load quicker
than Yahoo; nor could the ISPs hold any type of censoring power on the
types of sites users chose to frequent.

James Gattuso of the Heritage Foundation stated that “Net
neutrality… is probably the most talked about and least understood
issue I’ve ever come across.” He credited the mystery shrouding the
subject to the changing context of the issues with the internet driving
the net neutrality debates.

Now, however, the current debate on net neutrality concentrates on the
issue of regulation—which the web is virtually free of now— and is
driven by two contrasting definitions of the internet: either as a
public utility or an innovative industry. Public utilities historically
have their prices and practices heavily monitored by the government;
innovative industries respond to the control of the free market with
minimum government interference. Viewing the internet as a public
industry implies openness to heavy government regulation; as a normal
industry, the internet is subject to only the dictates of the
consumer-driven market.

Other industries have faced the public utility vs. innovative industry
debate and have been subjected to heavy government regulation.
Comparisons between the internet and the telephone abound among
advocates of internet regulation. Gattuso explains,

“A lot of the people that are pushing the net neutrality regulation now
are saying that the internet is just a telephone system with pictures,
and video, and audio, and live streaming, and everything else you can
imagine. Ultimately their position is it’s just like the telephone
system, we should apply the same common carrier public utility rules
that we applied to the telephone system in 1990…”

Former White House press secretary Mike McCurry of the Clinton administration saw the initial debate in action during
his time on the Hill. He elaborated on the decisions of the
administration of the time, stating:

“We elected not to apply the regulatory scheme for telephony to these
emerging services for broadband. This was a conscious decision. It came
about as part of the debate over the 1996 telecommunications reform
act. We would not, in effect, try—even though many were pressing us to
do this—try to provide the sort of common carrier regulations that
governed telephony….”

McCurry asserted that their refusal to regulate the digital age stemmed
from the understanding that government institutions would inhibit
innovation’s naturally swift tempo.

Recent regulation debates are fostered by various ISPs experimenting
with differentiating prices by distinguishing the amount of bandwidth a
consumer uses and charging them accordingly. As the ISPs update their
systems, they can either opt towards developing ‘smart networks’
capable of distinguishing between video, text, and audio services, or
continue building the ‘all-you-can-eat’ pipes currently established and
in use. Were they to adopt smart networks, proponents of government
regulation assert that parameters would be needed to ensure proper
management of the networks.

Grassroots resistance organizations are fighting for internet freedom
as best they know how- web pages and Youtube videos. McCurry co-chairs
‘Hands Off The Internet’ (found at http://www.handsoff.org/blog/),
which aims to both educate the public about net neutrality and
coordinate the companies dedicated towards fighting government
interference with the internet. ‘Save The Internet’ (found at
http://www.savetheinternet.com/) also works to bring attention to the
issue and to initiate a movement towards freedom.

Although the president he worked for was never known to be much of a
libertarian, McCurry himself leans to the free market end of this
debate. He states:

“… this is an area where if we tried to use government as the tool to
achieve an outcome, they’d get it all wrong. And they’d mess things up
and we’d actually end up further behind on getting broadband to the
places it needs to go. So for that reason, I opt for a vigilant,
present government that’s actually keeping an eye on things, but
watching how a market works to sort things out and to provide the right
experiences for a consumer. Everything is working in the right
direction now, there are very few instances and places where the
government needs to step in and regulate, so let’s let the market
rule.”




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