Net neutrality is the First Amendment issue of our time


Columnist Rick Hanton believes we should give the FCC the power to maintain net neutrality, so as not to push out smaller, less profitable website sources from the public’s view.

Rick Hanton

For a long time, maybe since my parents upgraded from a dial-up connection, I have been interested in technology and the internet. In more recent years, I’ve delved a bit into the politics of the internet and my favorite websites.

For those of you who have heard of, you may know about the digital riot of sorts that went on there a few years ago over a leaked HD-DVD decryption code. Taking part in some of that fiasco that shut down the site one day in May, I managed to have my profile on Digg suspended and it probably didn’t help my final exams that week at Iowa State.

On the upside, we won a small victory in forcing Digg to take its community of members seriously and think carefully before arbitrarily deleting user content.

Fast-forwarding to today, I’m still very interested in Internet politics, countries trying to block free speech on the internet, companies trying to cut off certain services — Bit-Torrent — and the like. So, as an observer of the organized chaos that is the World Wide Web, I’m deeply disturbed by the current debate over the need for net neutrality legislation — not sure why there is a debate.

Now, if you don’t understand net neutrality that’s OK, let me explain it in a metaphor you may understand:

Think of the Internet as a highway of information where every bit of information is a car and your computer is a highway exit. Companies like Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Wikipedia have car garages, servers, on entrances a long distance away from you down the highway. This highway is controlled by your Internet provider and the provider collects a toll from cars getting on and off the highway to maintain it for you so that Facebook or others can send a car of information down the highway to you when you ask for it. Currently all the cars obey the same speed limits and the only reason Google’s cars get to you faster than Facebook’s is that Google has more garages around the country.

So, the idea of net neutrality is simply that the FCC should have the power to mandate that while the speed limit on the highway can go up or down as the quality of the road surface and traffic congestion dictates, the Internet providers will not be able to set up “express lanes” for big companies’ data at the expense of normal cars; causing normal cars to get in more traffic jams.

Now, no company has decided to create these Internet express lanes yet, but they could do so very easily. They would charge companies like Facebook millions of dollars so that their data reaches you much faster than other websites such as the website for a class you are taking at Iowa State.

I went to hear Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., in Minnesota about this issue at South High School in Minneapolis, and found I heartily agree with him that we need to give the FCC the ability to maintain net neutrality, which they currently don’t have. One of Franken’s memorable quotes was, “Net neutrality is the First Amendment issue of our time,” and if you think about it, it really is.

If Internet providers started to abuse their freedom from net neutrality, they could speed up your access to CNN or Fox News who could pay for premium distribution, but your favorite news-reporting blog or a website like could never cough up the millions or billions to compete and may soon become too-slow and irrelevant.

It is in Internet and phone service companies’ best interests to serve you the smallest amount of data for the greatest price they can. So, while it would be great for the free market to keep net neutrality in check, that doesn’t work in a virtual monopoly market where most people have one or two choices of Internet provider and maybe one possible cell phone provider — because that company is the only one with the iPhone.

You, as a young person and a student, need to speak up right now to support granting the FCC net neutrality oversight.

You need to call or e-mail your senator or representative, and convince them of the importance of a single-tier, data-neutral Internet in today’s society.

You need to explain to your parents and friends that the Internet is as vibrant and useful as it is today solely because anyone is able to create a website that could become the next Facebook out of their parents’ garage.

You are the Internet generation. It is your Internet. Help protect it.