I just called Congress.
Well, more specifically, I just called my congressional representative, Tom McClintock, and explained why Net Neutrality is important. This was my first time calling a member of Congress to voice my opinion on something directly. It was surprisingly easy to do. I might even say it was fun.
I started off the phone conversation by urging my support for the Internet Freedom Preservation Act [H.R. 3458] which is currently in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. I prepared a high-level schpiel about how Net Neutrality is the principle that protects a free and open Internet, yada yada… And then I gave some concrete examples of how Net Neutrality ensures that economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech will continue to flourish on the Internet.
To illustrate why Net Neutrality is good for the economy, I used my two websites as an example. Because of the principle of neutrality, my websites have a fair opportunity to compete with all the websites on the Internet for the attention of Internet users. That is to say, Internet users (the public) get to decide if they want to use my sites, when to use them, how often to use them, all without the interference of their Internet Service Provider (Comcast, Verizon, AT&T).
If Comcast had its way, companies would be able to pay for premium access to the pipes. Companies with premium access would have their sites load faster for Internet users. Companies who refused to pay Comcast’s premiums fees, or couldn’t afford to pay them could have their sites artifically slowed down — and theoretically even blocked. So, big companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Time Warner, and News Corporation (the incumbents, so to speak) that can afford to pay this premium fee are favored over smaller competitors like Twitter, Lala …and me!
I like the idea of the consumer dictating what products will succeed and which will fail. These decisions are best determined by the free market. This is why we use Google for web search, and not Altavista anymore. This is why we left MySpace for Facebook when we got tired of ad-ridden profile pages that freeze your browser and make your CPU go to 100% just to render the page. And, this is why even Facebook and Google Search will, in due time, be replaced by other, better products.
Then, there is the freedom of speech argument. I’ve written about this before. ISPs should not have the power to block or discriminate against certain Internet traffic for any reason. Telephone service companies already have similar restrictions — they are not allowed to block a communication based on its content. In exchange, telcos are not liable for the content of the communications that they deliver. Why can’t we do the same for the Internet?
Certainly most reasonable observers see that this is a slippery slope. If we start allowing ISPs the discretion to block, censor, filter, interfere, impair, degrade, manage, or whatever they want to call it — with our Internet communications, then who’s to say they won’t use this power to silence their critics? Or to interfere with the performance of a competitor’s service? Or to block a competing product completely?
So, these are some of the issues I discussed during the phone call. Obviously, I didn’t speak directly to McClintock. The staff member I spoke with said that he was unfamiliar with McClintock’s position on Net Neutrality, but that he would check with “the boss” and get back to me via email. I’ll let you know what I hear back.
If you want to call your representative too, you can use this handy little tool developed by FreePress to help you find their phone number.
If you’re interested, here is the official summary of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act [H.R. 3458] and the changes that it would bring:
Amends the Communications Act of 1934 to set the policy of the United States regarding various aspects of the Internet, including access, consumer choice, competition, ability to use or offer content, applications, and services, discriminatory favoritism, and capacity. Makes it the duty of each Internet access service provider to:
not block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair, or degrade the ability of any person to use an Internet access service;
not impose certain charges on any Internet content, service, or application provider;
not prevent or obstruct a user from attaching or using any lawful device in conjunction with such service, provided the device does not harm the provider’s network;
offer Internet access service to any requesting person;
not provide or sell to any content, application, or service provider any offering that prioritizes traffic over that of other such providers; and
not install or use network features, functions, or capabilities that impede or hinder compliance with these duties. Requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to promulgate related rules. Prohibits construing this Act to prohibit an Internet access provider from engaging in reasonable network management. Requires the FCC to:
promulgate rules to ensure that an Internet access service provider does not require a consumer, as a condition on the purchase of any Internet access service, to purchase any other service or offering; and
take certain actions, including regarding private transmission capacity services.
(If you liked this, you might like Freedom of Speech on the Internet.)