By: John Shepler
The Internet has been my life for the last 20 years or so. Oh, it’s been around longer than that. I only got on when they released it to the public commercially in the mid-90’s. Back then it was all dial-up modems and make-your-own websites. One ad that ran at the time sticks vividly in my mind. It said something like “What’s different on the Internet about IBM and a kid with a science fair site about ducks?” The answer: “Nothing.”
On the Internet, the World is Flat
What didn’t soak in to many of us when we started communicating over computer networks was the inherent democracy, the equality of it all. Distance disappears. At the speed of light, the printer in the next room and the one on the other side of the world are equally close. You can locate team members anywhere and they forget they aren’t all in one big building… co-located, but just too far to walk over for a visit. Video conferencing takes care of that need for face-to-face.
The Internet is based on this idea of one big network that anyone can join anywhere in the world and be electronically in the same room as anyone else. I’ve gotten comfortable on Facebook with a circle of friends who collaborate on projects, but also share our personal lives. It wouldn’t be much different if we all worked in the same building or hung out at the same coffee shop. We share our joys and sorrows as if we were neighbors.
Bless the Level Playing Field
I got my feet wet online with Prodigy, then AOL, then Netscape over a local ISP. I built my first website using Adobe Pagemill and a floppy disk with some graphics that I bought at an office supply store. I wanted a place to showcase magazine-type articles that I was writing so I could also display affiliate banners to generate income to pay for the Internet connection. It had a tilde in the URL that looked a little weird on a business card, but getting a real domain name was pricey back then.
Yeah, I had a duck site. My wife and I still call amateur looking websites “duck sites”, after that commercial I mentioned earlier. The honest truth was and still is, as of this writing, that getting to my duck site was just as easy as getting to the IBM corporate site or Amazon, or the White House or anyplace else on the Web. The Internet is flat. It is level. It is democratic. It is egalitarian. The DOD that funded the genesis of the Internet, called ARPANET, built it with the best of American principles… they designed it to be free. That freedom is called neutrality: Net Neutrality.
Power to the People
Let me just say this first. I am a capitalist and proud of it. Capitalism has been very, very good to me. Better for some than others, I understand. But for most of us in what’s called the American Middle Class, we’ve grown up and aged with the opportunity to make something of ourselves by selling our skills to employers and building our own businesses. The Internet has added a whole whole new dimension of virtual business opportunities that cost little or nothing to enter, with rewards based more on sweat equity than the need for heavy debt to get started. The capitalistic opportunity of the Web has been more of a job creator, in the sense of people creating their own jobs, than any of the actual “jobs” programs that are being touted.
Having said that, I must admit that I’m horrified by what’s being promoted as capitalism these days. There seems to be a strong move afoot to return to the “Gilded Age” of the post Civil War era when the famed “robber barons” of industry and the railroad trusts lived like kings and most people lived like paupers. The game of Monopoly was actually invented as a cautionary tale to demonstrate what happens when there are no checks and balances in society. Players may start out on an equal footing, but in a few or more than a few hours, one person has everything and everyone else is flat broke. In real life, we don’t even start out equally advantaged.
Does It Have To Be All or Nothing?
This brings us back to net neutrality. For years, I was on the fence about whether to maintain all Internet traffic perfectly equal or allow some prioritization. A lot of VoIP phone calls on the internet sound like crap. It’s because real time packets of audio signals are highly sensitive to latency, jitter and packet loss. The least bit of congestion in the network turns a clear call into a distorted mess. There are ways to improve this, such as running your own voice network or having a dedicated access line to the core of the Internet. Not as good or easy, though, as if there were protected channels just for voice over the net.
Forget it. We don’t live in a world run by volunteer Internet engineers whose morals are driven by ensuring excellence and justice for all users. What we’re faced with now is dominance by large corporate entities that, despite expression of high minded intentions, will be driven by ruthless competition and demanding shareholders to maximize returns, if not immediately, then a quarter or two down the road.
Without any constraints at all, the era of duck sites will be over and only those with the big bucks will have unfettered worldwide visibility. It could be like a scene from those depression era films: “Nice web site you got there. Be a shame if nobody could get to it.”
Protect Your Freedom or Lose It
I’m not normally given to scare mongering, but I’m very much concerned that we’re looking at the end of the bootstrapping entrepreneur and even the end of unfettered freedom to explore and utilize the wealth of diverse resources available around the world. The farmers market, the arts and crafts festival, the country roads, the public bulletin board in the hardware store and the political stump in the town square are all about to be replaced by the toll bridge and the parking meter. Is that what we want?
Here’s what you need to do before it is too late. Voice your opposition to losing net neutrality and with it your personal freedom to post anything you want and go anywhere you want to go without having to pay extra fees or switch service providers. Use the resources you have now to Google your senators and representatives. Send messages through their websites. Get their office phone numbers online or call the US Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224–3121. You don’t need to make a speech. Just say you are opposed to destroying net neutrality and want them to intervene.
Most of all, call the FCC who actually makes the rules. Here’s the number: (202) 418–1000 Take 10 seconds and leave them a voice mail. While one voice may not make a difference, thousands or millions of one voice each certainly will. Will you join me before it’s too late?