That does it: I am now a full-fledged convert to net neutrality.
We live in a world with so much noise, so many desperate people calling for our attention and action, that we inevitably put up filters and barriers to keep from being overwhelmed.
It would be nice to be committed, one way or another, to all of the important issues we face, but frankly, with the proliferation of news sources from the daily paper, and a handful of TV stations, to thousands of Web sites, bloggers, cable news and satellite radio, I (and probably you, too) just don't have enough time, energy or passion to spread that far around.
Empathy fatigue has become a very real factor in our lives.
And that brings me to net neutrality. I know that, as someone who has made his career writing about technology, that I should have, long ago, taken a side in the debate over a free and open Internet. But the very thought of getting involved, like a lot of disputes over theory, rather than reality, just made me sleepy.
It's not that I didn't understand the debate. I could certainly support the notion that the Web ought to be a wide-open, level field, the online equivalent to open systems, in which all of the world's billions could operate with full freedom. Nice idea, very Jeffersonian, and I had seen too many technologies get locked up by one or more major players (i.e., Microsoft Windows), and get locked down into standardization, long before that technology had reached its full potential.
On the other hand, I try to be a realist and not get suckered into this month's latest Utopian fantasy. I'm always wary of people with an absolutist view of anything — and the notion of a perfectly pure and open Net had a bit of that smell to it.
Besides, I'm a good entrepreneurial capitalist. I not only have no problem with people making a buck, I applaud the very idea. I want everybody to get rich — and if that means that parts of the Web needed to be segmented in some way to protect the intellectual property of its creators … well, maybe that says there's something wrong with the Net neutral model.
OK, so you can see my thinking — and my ambivalence.
And so, I suspect again, like most people when faced with this paradox, I decided to sit back and let events take their course — figuring that one side or the other would show their hand, make their move, tip the scales, and expose the dark side of their position.
Well, that is precisely what has happened with net neutrality over the last few months. The bad guys have emerged.
It began last summer, during an online broadcast of a concert by Pearl Jam. Now, if you don't know the politics of lead singer Eddie Vedder by now, you've probably never even heard of this band.
So, I figure everyone who linked to the concert that day knew Pearl Jam's politics — and were, thus, anything but shocked when Vedder start spouting off against President Bush. Nor would they have been surprised at what the singer said, had they been allowed to hear it. But apparently, it was too much for the tender ears of these aging grunge rock fans — because AT&T cut off the audio during the rant.
AT&T blamed a contractor for the action. But it wasn't long before bloggers (bless 'em) started listing other examples of similar censorship by the giant carrier. AT&T then issued a sweeping apology — which, of course, no sane person really believed.