The public purpose of the Internet must be protected


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

In a month that has offered little promising political news, there has been one potentially positive development: President Barack Obama has articulated clear objectives on net neutrality.

Obama said Nov. 10 that the Federal Communications Commission should adopt regulations to prevent communications companies from restricting any legal content sent across the World Wide Web. The president went on to say the Internet should be treated as a public utility, according to The New York Times.

Any time people in the government talk about regulating the Internet, there is a healthy amount of skepticism. No one who values the Internet as a medium for free expression would want the government to control it.

However, there are problems relating to a free Internet that go beyond the government. Without well defined policies outlining net neutrality, service providers could take actions that would limit the ability of users to obtain legal content.

Net neutrality is an important idea for protecting those things about the Internet many people value. Large telecommunications companies should not have the power to manipulate access to certain content for commercial reasons.

This is not an issue about empowering government, but rather empowering individuals above both the government and corporations. To use the Internet to its fullest potential, individuals must not be obstructed from getting legal content.

The situation is a difficult one because it puts us all between two institutions, both of which can have a potentially negative impact on Internet freedom. In light of this less-than-ideal situation, the objective should be to create an environment in which neither government nor corporations can restrict content.

Some amount of government regulation is warranted in this case. There is currently little competition in the broadband Internet market. A September document from the FCC showed the lack of consumer choice, including the fact that “nearly 75 percent of homes have no choice in providers” for higher-speed tiers of Internet.

As troubling as some of the effects of government regulation might be, as long as that regulation is confined to ensuring open access, it is a good thing. As with all actions of the government, citizens must be vigilant to guard against over-reach.

It is the critical role the Internet plays in all of our lives that makes this issue so important. The Internet has become so integrated into everyday life that it has become more than just a luxury. It is now the primary medium for news, entertainment, communication and work.

More than just these things, it has the most-used method for self-expression, for sharing and receiving diverse ideas about the world around us.

Any decisions about this vital technology will have an effect on our freedom in one way or another. Therefore, the Internet must be treated as a public good, not simply a commodity that private companies may control in whatever way they please.

This is not to say that no one should be able to profit it from or that no one can charge for it. Obviously, there are certain costs to providing service and the companies that provide the service should be remunerated.

However, there must be some recognition that the Internet has a public purpose and that its purpose must be respected.

Creating the environment for the freest possible Internet will not be easy, but it is good to see that the president seems to be serious about making progress in this area.

Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.