The Future of the Internet Depends on Good Public Policy
Misty Perez Truedson of Free Press explains why net neutrality is important, how the next Google or Facebook could benefit from an open Internet, and what’s standing in its way.
Free Press is a nonprofit organization that believes in reforming media policy to transform democracy. Misty Perez Truedson conducts strategic communications and outreach activities to advance Free Press’ legislative and movement building initiatives. She works with community-based organizations, public interest groups, academics, and other allies to encourage participation in Free Press campaigns and events, with a particular focus on the Save the Internet campaign. Prior to joining Free Press, Misty was the statewide grassroots organizing coordinator for Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. She holds a master’s degree in community development and planning from Clark University in Worcester, Mass.
Can you explain the concept of net neutrality and why it is important in our increasingly Internet-dependent world?
Net neutrality sounds complicated, but it’s actually a very simple concept. Net neutrality ensures that Internet users can connect to one another freely and access the content and applications they choose, without interference from Internet service providers. It’s the guiding principle that underlies the open Internet and allows users to control their own online experience—making it so that you can go anywhere on the Web, read, watch and share what you want and access the content you like.
The Internet is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity, and making sure that the Internet remains open to users and free of gatekeepers is essential to the overall value of the Internet. It is the future of communications, and we need to keep it open, accessible and affordable for everyone. More and more people are turning to the Internet for news and information, communication with friends and family, to search and apply for employment and for entertainment. It’s become a great platform for small business development and growth. If Internet service providers are allowed to control our online experience once we log on, they could decide to prioritize their sites, services and applications over those of competitors.
Can you give an example, real or hypothetical, of the consequences of not having net neutrality that might be relevant to our readers?
Phone and cable companies have violated net neutrality many times. Comcast blocked file sharing and then lied about it. Internet service providers have blocked innovative applications—like Internet-based phone calls—that they view as unwanted competition. Without net neutrality, the Internet will look more like cable TV where you choose from a menu of premium tiers rather than having unfettered access to the Internet. Internet providers will decide which channels, content and applications are available; consumers will have to choose from their menu. Access to content along with the ability to create content is an invaluable piece of the Internet. Protecting net neutrality is essential to protecting the Internet we have come to rely on for so much of our communications.>
Why would net neutrality be important for alternative publications and independent media in general?
Net neutrality prevents Internet service providers from prioritizing their websites, media and content over alternative and independent media. Without it, Internet service providers could charge more to content providers to speed up their sites, which could prevent alternative media and citizen journalists from competing on a level playing field. This would put even more media power in the hands of a few corporate media outlets. Having a level playing field, where content and applications are treated equal means I can access [independent] websites with the same ease that I can access mainstream media news sites. In a world without net neutrality, we could imagine a scenario where Comcast would rather I access news sites that they own and slow down or block access to competing publications.
Why is net neutrality important to the preservation of democracy and democratic communication?
At its core, the fight for net neutrality is about democracy. It’s about giving people access to the information and tools they need to engage in our democracy. The Internet is an avenue to information about political candidates, current legislators, policy debates and decisions, as well as the tools to engage in our democracy. We can use the Internet to access information and tools to hold our leaders accountable and shape the decision that affect our lives.
How close, or far, are we from net neutrality?
The FCC has proposed creating new rules to fulfill President Obama’s promise to protect net neutrality and are currently gathering data and input from the public to help with those rules. We hope the FCC will create a strong net neutrality rule within the year.
Many opponents to net neutrality argue that the principle will inhibit innovation online and also impose unnecessary regulations on an already unlevel playing field. What is your response to this?
Net neutrality has always been part of the Internet since its inception. The Internet was built on the very same open architecture that net neutrality rules would codify. Net neutrality—the open Internet—fosters innovation by providing a low bar of entry and a level playing field for entrepreneurs and innovators. If Internet service providers are allowed to act as gatekeepers it will stifle innovation, economic growth, and communication. Net neutrality is the reason that startups like Facebook and Google have been able to succeed online and it’s the reason that some new company—yet to be named—has the potential to succeed online and become the next Facebook. Essentially [Internet Service Providers] oppose net neutrality because they see a way to extract even more profits from consumers by seizing control of the Internet in the same way that these companies have done with radio, television, and cable before it. The phone and cable companies are pulling out all the stops against Net Neutrality. These companies (including AT&T, Verizon and Comcast) have spent more than $50 million to deploy nearly 500 lobbyists in Washington.
This article originally appeared in The Fine Print, part of the Campus Progress Journalism Network.