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Ilana Ross

Ilana Ross

Posted: August 16, 2010 03:34 PM

In case you've been living in a wireless dead zone for the past week, there's a battle for the Internet going on, and it's tearing cyberspace apart! All the name calling and apocalyptic paranoia has got even the typically level-headed Wall Street Journal hot and bothered. So, what is it that's making these blogging heads spin? What is this delicious scandal that is rocking the online world to its wired core? Turns out, it's the fight for -- "Net Neutrality."

Net neutrality? What the heck is that? An energy company? A political party? The fifth of Captain Planet's Planeteers? I didn't know either, but I knew it had to be important and consequential if it could create such a media buzz.

I may not be the smartest iPhone in the Mac Store, but admitting my pitiful understanding of such a critical modern issue was still plenty embarrassing. Being a member of the younger generation, I'm supposed to be technically savvy, on top of all the latest apps and figures. Not for nothing did I teach my parents how to text, tweet, and burn copies of legally downloaded Vince Gill songs.

How could I know next to nothing about this phenomenon? I resolved to do some light archival research (Wikipedia) and learn the truth about the future of the Internet.

Here's what I gathered: Net neutrality is the idea that all online content is equal before the Almighty and is equally accessible to all His first world children. This means that my little blog is just as easily found on the web, as say, King James's tweets, or Anderson Cooper's video diary from a disaster-torn nation, or an episode of the award-winning medical drama House, or any other diamond in the rough.

The latest challenge to this governing democratic principle comes from the usual culprit, Big Business. According to net neutrality alarmists, certain powerful companies are trying to wrest control of the Internet's pathways of free flowing information and heavenly light. Allegedly, they want to create a hierarchical system where content providers pay for top billing, not unlike how it works for cable television. The providers, let's call them "Verizon" and "Google," could effectively tier the Internet so that preferential websites can have their content delivered to users more expediently. All of which means, it'd be up to these corporations to decide which content makes it to you the fastest, in your moment of informational need.

I'm not a regular Wired magazine reader, so forgive me if I'm not grasping all the intricacies of the issue. Admittedly, I have no idea how these monolithic providers intend to carry out such a scheme. (How DO you make the Internet go faster? I thought we were already traveling at a warp speed!) But if I've learned anything from my Fox News heroes, it's that you don't have to understand an issue in all its nuance and entirety in order to have an opinion on it.

Now, on the one hand, it's hard to begrudge the Google-Verizon Galactic Empire for seeking to increase their profit margins. Times are tough in this economy, and if owning and operating the Internet is the only way to make ends meet, then so be it. Anyway, ownership is as natural to Americans as any other blue-blooded value. Thanks to our founding fathers, those wise and wrinkly faces who smile knowingly at us from dollar bills, property rights are ingrained in the national ethos. We learn to mark our own territory from a young age. I was eight when my mother instructed me to initial all of all my socks and T-shirts, so that the laundry elves at Camp Moshe Cohen wouldn't steal them or mix them in with the Gentile loads.

And yet, it's this unguarded capitalism that can spiral out of control and threaten the democratic freedom we treasure and support when it's convenient. I'm no opponent of the free market economy, but someone has got to stand up for the little-guy websites that will be written out of existence in the absence of net neutrality. Sites without a large budget may go the lonely way of many an instructive cable access show on Tai Chi and watercoloring, off into virtual oblivion.

Maybe "Net Neutrality" doesn't sound like the most exciting "trending topic" or slogan to wear on a trucker hat or ironic Tee. But don't let bad marketing make such a high-stakes issue seem inaccessible, or even irrelevant.

Don't be neutral about net neutrality. Voice your opinion, friend, because those corporate giants expect you not to, because they expect you to accept the inevitability of whatever deals they make behind closed doors and mask in strange and technical jargon.

Ask your question, no matter how bashful it makes you to admit you may be a touch uninformed. Consider this activism as urgent as a declaration of unrequited love-- potentially humiliating, but nonetheless necessary for your soul and sense of fairness.

As always, the power is yours.

 

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