“Let’s see whether the United States is capable of acting according to its important values, or whether it is, as so many people are saying, run by the misguided short-term interests of large corporations.
I hope that Congress can protect net neutrality, so I can continue to innovate in the internet space. I want to see the explosion of innovations happening out there on the Web, so diverse and so exciting, continue unabated.”
-2006, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web
“We don’t need the Internet.”
“It’s a waste of time; it kills brain cells.”
“We should all go outside and get some fresh air, or maybe read a book.”
All of these arguments against the Internet are valid.
Humans existed for thousands of years without the Internet, and we could survive without it now. We use it too much, and perhaps we rely on it to connect with each other when we should be connecting face to face.
We certainly don’t need a free and open Internet to continue living.
But for all its evils, the Internet can be a beautiful place.
A place where, if you’re lonely, you can find a friend, even if that friend lives halfway across the world.
If you are single, you can find a partner.
If you want to read a new book, you can order it.
If you want to listen to some new music, you can stream an album.
If you want to have a business but cannot afford a storefront you can buy a webpage and sell your product instead.
If you want to cure your boredom you can surf for hours, upload a homemade video, or write a blog.
The Internet is the modern-day Wild, Wild West; a vast frontier where you can be whoever you want to be, find whatever you want to find, and build whatever you want to build, all with a few simple clicks. No one can ever explore the entire Internet, but most people, if they want to have access to the modern world, need to access small parts of it in some way.
Take Cuba, for example. Only about 30% of the population of Cuba can access the Internet. When it can be accessed, it is highly censored, and can only be used in public places like Internet cafes. Their rules aren’t as strict as China’s, but they are still pretty stringent. Cubans have never known what it means to start a business online, to make a viral video, or to start a blog just because they feel like ranting about something. In addition, it is almost impossible to grow economically without the Internet, so their access to modernity, and by extension, to upward mobility, is severely limited.
In the United States we took a free and open Internet for granted until last Thursday, when the Federal Communications Commission voted to undo “net neutrality” protections that were put in place during the Obama administration. Until this vote, all websites were created equal. For example, a small, personal blog about gardening was given as much bandwidth as The New York Times so that the latter wouldn’t suppress a reader’s ability to view alternative content. Now, broadband companies can block smaller, less popular websites or charge for certain content, which might make it harder to visit alternative, indie, or more “underground” sites.
So what’s the problem? Nobody wants to read your stupid gardening blog, anyways. (Just kidding, I’m sure you blog was great). The point is, you had the freedom to make that blog, and others had the freedom to access it if they wanted. Now, like most other things in life, a huge company has the right to make that decision for you, and to decide whether or not you can access that blog easily, or for free, or how long it is going to take for that blog to load on your computer.
I’m certainly no expert, but it seems like some of our freedoms aren’t as free as they used to be after the FCC’s big decision.
And it doesn’t take a genius to see the hypocrisy of enacting laws similar to a country we shunned until 2014 because of its restrictive government. “The Land of the Free…” Yeah, right.
I don’t know what is happening in my country, but I hope it doesn’t come to yours. And for God’s sake, defend the Internet. We don’t need it to survive, but we can use it to grow. And that’s an opportunity everyone deserves.
Find out more: The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world. Read their latest posts on Net Neutrality here.
Cover photo source here.