Closing The Digital Divide Through Net Neutrality (wth is THAT?!)
Net neutrality. It’s a term you’ve probably heard before especially in the news lately. Last week the controversial phrase was in the headlines again when all three of Washington state’s Republican representatives in Congress signed a letter to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission pleading with him not to change the classification of broadband- that thing you use to get internet or cable tv- to a “telecommunications service.”
So what is net neutrality and why does it matter?
Basically, the goal of net neutrality is to keep information equally accessible to consumers- you and me. That means if you search for something on the internet, the results you get aren’t dictated by the influence of business or internet service providers, or even the government.
For example; if you search for book stores in your zip code, under net neutrality, all the book stores in your zip code would show up. Seems simple enough, right? Well, without net neutrality, one of those book stores, say, the one with the most money, could potentially pay to have any other stores- their competition- excluded from your search results, effectively cornering the market, weakening their competition, and preventing you from knowing what other stores are available to you.
The bookstore example may seem like an innocent enough issue that, in the scheme of things, won’t cause you that much harm. But we search for all kinds of businesses, resources and information about all sorts of topics and issues relevant to our lives. Net neutrality essentially levels the playing field for commercial websites. Individual Internet service providers, search engines and major online services like Yahoo, America Online (AOL) or Google would not be able to restrict or filter a user’s access to rival companies.
Net neutrality is an important issue that seems reasonable enough. In fact, it has a lot of opposition. The Republicans from Washington State who signed the letter I mentioned earlier, signed alongside 177 other Republicans against this effort. Big businesses like AT&T and Comcast are also on the front lines of this fight. Why? The power to influence access to information could bring about a profit windfall. Money, in exchange for your ability to access information.
But there is another reason net neutrality is significant: the digital divide.
Garlin Gilchrist, a friend of mine and the Director of New Media at the Center For Community Change in Washington DC describes it this way:
“The digital divide- once just a matter of mere digital ignorance- is fast becoming an issue of digital access and representation. People know that a digital and connected future exists; they can’t realize it because they are priced or mapped out of the market.
The National Broadband Plan along with the FCC’s other efforts to promote universal broadband Internet access and protect Internet freedom, will benefit everyone, especially those excluded from today’s market; low-income communities and people of color anxious to get online.”
Garlin goes on to say, “It isn’t just about accessing information others make available over the internet. With full and equal access, entrepreneurs can create venture after venture with the assurance that their commitment and the quality of their ideas will determine their success, not back room deals between their competitors and internet service providers that tilt the scale against them.
Young people of color can participate in the revolutionary acts of self-expression and self-definition without fear that their voices and images will be stamped out by forces seeking to make them invisible. This is what closing the digital divide is all about.”
Garlin and others who push these topics are on the right side of the issue- and you need to be too.
Net neutrality is much more than a highbrow political debate in Washington DC. This is a real issue which impacts communities all over this country. The internet and access to information is the reality of our time, and certainly the reality of our future. Don’t be passive. Use your voice and your power to advocate to your elected officials to do what is right, to bridge the digital divide and keep the Internet open and free.