Silicon Insider: Neutrality vs. Free Speech

I'm completely confused about "Net Neutrality," but I'm very damn certain about "Net Freedom."

Chances are that even if you followed the recent vote by the House of Representatives voting down new regulations regarding Internet "neutrality," you are still confused about whether this was a good or bad thing.

Part of the problem was that by the time of the final vote, the bill had been so compromised and rewritten to scoop up votes that even proponents and opponents seemed confused. For example, within minutes of the vote, I received an e-mailed press release from the Competitive Enterprise Institute -- what you would normally consider to be a libertarian, free-market think tank, congratulating the congressmen for striking a blow against equal access to the Web.

If that seems odd, consider that, in doing so, the CEI was siding with telecommunications companies (and, apparently, Microsoft) against various consumer advocacy groups, Google and eBay. But wouldn't you think that the content providers would want tiered pricing on the Net, and the "pipeline" folks would want it wide open?

In Congress itself, the vote pretty much split along party lines, with Republicans voting against 'neutrality' and Democrats voting for it. On the one hand, this might seem counter-intuitive, as the GOP is supposed to be the party of free competition and the Dems the promoters of regulation in the name of fairness.

But in the end, this seems to be one of those bits of legislation that is so twisted up with side deals, addenda, false labeling and hidden motives -- probably on purpose -- that it'll be hard to know whether your afore it or against it until you see its effects… if there ever are any, because some other legislation will likely come along to reverse it.

A Battle on Two Fronts

In the meantime, I think all you need to know about Net Neutrality is that there are two arenas of combat here. The first is in the business world, where the telcos want to be able to create new private networks -- so-called "splinternets" -- where they can tier both services and pricing. The big Net content providers don't want that because it surrenders some of the control over their businesses and also opens the door to potential new competitors.

Conservatives are against Net Neutrality because they believe it stifles competition on the Net and innovation in the Net. They also don't like the idea of the government acting as arbiters of e-business. Liberals are for Net Neutrality because they believe any kind of stratification of Web delivery will benefit the affluent over the needy -- and that is something that needs to be fought with the power of government. All the other claims about being in the pocket of big business or, conversely, against business altogether are just the usual smokescreen put up by the two sides to slander each other.

On the other hand, I still may not know what I'm talking about. If you're curious, go study the bill yourself and the debates on both sides. I, for one, am not going to lose much sleep over it.

The Issue of Speech

But, if I'm not too concerned about "Net Neutrality," there is one matter that sets off alarm bells in my head -- freedom of speech. This is something both sides of the aisle ought to be able to agree upon -- well, except for the fools who believe that (unlike their enlightened selves) other people are too dangerously stupid and gullible to be allowed to hear 'hate' speech.

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