Friday, November 26, 2010

Regulating the underground

There are issues in our society where the facts are difficult to discern.  A universal health care package from the federal government is an albatross around our necks that will only bankrupt future generations and land the elderly among us in Nazi death camps.  Supporting gun ownership means you're just asking for more crime to be committed.

For me, the issue of net neutrality falls somewhere amongst these hotbed topics.  The Huffington Post even thinks it deserves its own section of the news.  As I understand it, the central controversy is whether or not an arm of the government, namely the FCC, should have the power to regulate both internet access and content.    There is also debate over computer network service providers and how data transfer is prioritized over bandwidth.  For example, this quote from Google CEO, Eric Schmidt:

"I want to be clear what we mean by Net neutrality: What we mean is if you have one data type like video, you don't discriminate against one person's video in favor of another. But it's okay to discriminate across different types, so you could prioritize voice over video, and there is general agreement with Verizon and Google on that issue."

 While I admittedly have not been following this issue all that closely, one factor keeps bubbling to the top of my cerebrum each time I read something about it.  That is, "how the heck do they even propose to do this?"  In terms of government regulation, what would the legislation even look like?  I would venture to say that those in favor of censorship of any kind on the internet are very few, but we all want our browsers and ISPs to drop spam for us.  Isn't that a form of censorship?  The waters muddy indeed.  Plus, while restrictions can and are imposed in certain corners of the internet, such as blockage in China, Iran, Burma, and other such dictatorships, but ways are always found around it.  
Information is like water.  It wants to be free.  Both will seek out find whatever path of least resistance that they can and escape.  It may take a while and a good deal of erosion at the barrier, but in time it will be free.  The content that you wish to restrict or block will, given enough time, work its way free of the chains.  Regulation and restriction only serves to push the underground lower, where it might have to work harder, but it's still there.  A fair-sized smackdown was placed on Napster and WinMX, but there are still myriad peer-to-peer file sharing networks out there for you to download X-Files episodes from.  Like I said, there are always ways around it.
So will the FCC have its way and clamp down?  We're supposed to find out mid-December, but Bruce Sterling has already told us not to worry.  That's good enough for me.
Oh and R.E.M. supports net neutrality.  Another reason to back it.

I jest.  Really.

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