Thomasville Times Enterprise

May 17, 2014

Net neutrality necessary

Rev. Arthur L. Jones III

— You’ve probably heard a lot about the topic of net neutrality over the past year or so in the news. Republicans have their view on net neutrality; Democrats have their view on it. That’s one of the problems inherent to the current state of our political discourse here in America. It’s not complicated. It’s actually simple. Either you’re for net neutrality or you’re against it. But if you use the Internet with any degree of regularity — at work, at home, or on your mobile device(s) — I cannot begin to fathom how you could possibly be against net neutrality. It’s a vital, necessary right for all Americans.

Please allow me to elaborate.

One of the most precious rights we have as American citizens is our right to free speech. Our right to free speech extends to our use of the Internet. As an American citizen, you have the right to maintain a blog or binge watch episodes of “Downton Abbey” or stream your favorite team’s games in realtime via the Internet. Net neutrality treats whatever you read, play and download online with the exact same respect as whatever the president of the United States reads, plays and downloads. We all have the same rights to free speech, privacy and Internet bandwidth. In short, net neutrality means freedom from oversight, from censorship and from government control.

In the United States, we have enjoyed what is referred to as “open Internet.” Open Internet grants Americans policy protections like equal treatment of data and open web standards. These protections allow us as Internet subscribers/users to easily communicate and conduct business without interference from a third party (i.e. the government or any internet service provider). God bless America.

Every nation doesn’t extend the right of free speech to its citizens. The same is true of net neutrality, the freedom of assembly and privacy rights. In certain countries, “closed Internet” is the modus operandi. Internet access is confined to who is deemed worthy. In China, citizens can only go to government-approved websites for news and information. In North Korea, Internet access to foreign countries and cultures is extremely limited. Internet privacy rights within these countries are virtually non-existent. Failure to obey the Internet access protocols there can led to swift punishments — including the permanent loss of all Internet access, or even imprisonment. It’s not about money there. It’s all about control.

The absence of net neutrality is even more dangerous and potentially destructive when you consider all the possible outcomes. Here’s an example. Imagine a United States of America in which the president is a member of the Orange Party. What if the Orange Party hated Republicans and Democrats? If that president had enough Orange Party members in the Senate and in the House, he/she could conceivably restrict Internet upload/download speeds for any non-Orange partier. What if non-Orange Party Americans suddenly had to pay more for any Internet access? What if every non-Orange partier couldn’t go to certain websites? What if the race, gender, or income of non-Orange Party Americans determined if they had Internet access at all? Suddenly, the corporations which provide Internet access would have to choose sides: align with the government and their regulatory powers or align with their customers? That choice would be instantaneous. They’ll take government for billions, Alex.

Try this on for size, folks. If telecom companies ever decided to impose a tiered service model with the intention of controlling the Internet pipeline, who could stop them? If/when they pulled that off, Internet service providers would have effectively removed any competition. That would mean artificial scarcity, and artificial scarcity is a blunt-force instrument which can (and will) be used to force Internet subscribers to pay skyrocketing rates for net access.

Republicans believe in small government, right? If that’s true, they should be for net neutrality. Democrats believe in equal protections for all Americans, correct? If so, they should also demand net neutrality. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. The removal of net neutrality is a real and present danger to every single American regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, educational background, system of faith or political affiliation. A democratic nation needs a democratic Internet.

There are times when Democrats and Republicans should see eye-to-eye. There are issues which should go beyond political rivalries and talking points. Situations will arise which will require us to set aside our differences temporarily in order to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and fight for that which is right. This is such a time. This is such an issue. This is one of those situations.

It’s not about your views on President Obama. It’s not about whether you bleed red or blue. It’s about freedom. Net neutrality is necessary. Without it, you’ll wake up one day in an Americanized version of China.