sizing up media, technology, and society

Net Neutrality: The Crash Course

with 2 comments

Today I wanted to join Dave on the soapbox and voice my extreme concern over the issue of net neutrality. He has written a fantastic post on his blog laying out some of the key threads of the debate. I want to endorse what he’s said and also provide some of the examples that I’ve stumbled upon in my own research in hopes of spreading awareness of not only the players involved and the current state of the debate, but also shed some light on precisely what is at stake.

A bit of a disclaimer before we jump in: Most of the information surrounding the issue comes from American sources and deal specifically with the American political and corporate infrastructure. Despite this, and independent from the systems responsible for the outcome of the debate, the philsophy behind network neutrality is a position already starting to be eroded by Canadian corporate interests. So, whatever you watch, whatever you read, I hope you realize that the war on the internet is already in full swing on Canadian soil, so be wary.

The Crash Course:

Keep reading!

The parallels that this video draws to the invention of pint and radio technologies always gives me chills. The creation of these technologies and the subsequent explosive emergence of new cultures are remarkable and wonderous events in the histories of human civilization and culture. Their eventual silencing, deconstruction, and regulation served to consolidate the powers inherent to these media into the arsenal of a select few, who had not the interests of the many at the top of their agenda. This choking off of interaction serves an oligarchical agenda, not a democratic one. As history has repeatedly shown, a populous in contact and discussion with each other has been the catalyst of revolutions, something that the powerful absolutely do not want. In today’s populated world it is increasingly easy to feel alienated and disconnected from your fellow citizen, and the internet remains one of the best ways of reestablishing the connection at a certain level of interaction, and thus, in the best interests of democracy.

The telecom companies insist that ownership of the physical channels constitues a right to a degree of control over the content that passes through it is almost a no-contest. In fact, Rogers Cable has recently been experimenting with content injection and substitution on third-party sites (Click me and check this out). I was outraged at this practice, and struggled to understand how it was any different from Rogers periodically interrupting my personal phone calls in order ask me if I’m comfortable with my cable package or if I need a new cell phone (click link in case of contact with telemarketer). For me, this logic sticks for net neutrality: what the companies offer is the SERVICE and should not be allowed to DICTATE THE CONTENT. People wouldn’t put up with crap like that for one second, and so its up to us to educate them that the proposed sidestepping of the First Amendment of the Internet is effectively the same act.

Not to mention how positively maddening it is that the process of overturning the telecommunication regulations already in place was simply a matter of rhetoric:

In 2005, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) redefined “broadband,” recasting it as an information, rather than a telecommunication, service.

“It sounds like an innocuous change, but it isn’t,” explains Ben Scott, a spokesperson for net neutrality for Free Press, a media democracy NGO based in Washington, D.C. With the stroke of a pen, Scott says the decision undid the entire regulatory regime attached to telecom services, thrusting them into “a category that has virtually no regulations.”

So all it took for this debate to open right up, was the simple redefinition of the internet to be an “information” service: a realm of service ripe for the taking, and allowing for the development of new governing and regulatory bodies, totally unihibited by “technicalities”. This bears an awful resemblance to another attrocity of our time, for it closely parallels the routine overturning or neglect of the Geneva Conventions (whcih protects humans from torture) that makes United States torturing of Iraqi prisoners permissible, as they are recast as “detainees” instead of “prisoners of war” and thus completely unprotected by the Geneva Conventions. While disturbing, it is simply another example of entire regulatory bodies of information being overturned by the simple act of renaming. From prisoner to detainee, from telecommunication to information, the result is the same: the allowance of previously illegal practices in the pursuit of private agendas.

Iraq war controversy aside, its important to understand what the fight for net neutrality isn’t about. It isn’t about allowing absolutely everything, much like being a free human being doesn’t entitle you to kill people. I, for one, would glad help out in the development of a system of standards that clearly delineate categories of the web in such a way as to parallel, augment, and eventually evolve the legal and ethical systems currently in place. I must emphasize the evolution aspect of that process, because as Einstein once put it so well, “the significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them”. To adhere to dated systems in light of new directions is to completely miss the point of evolution. There’s a place for traditionalism, but not where it impacts the development of new and relevant freedoms in today’s world. We see this war being fought on the fields of copyright law and its place in today’s hypermediated world.

I consider net neturality to be one of the foremost political issues in North America today, and as such, I cannot emphasize its importance enough. I can see how my passion for it has fueled this post.

I would love to hear from anyone who has something to say about these issues. And if you don’t want to say anything or don’t think it’s worthwhile, remember that you had your chance back in the day when the internet was the closest thing to free speech that we had. I invite everyone to join me in making some changes to our Media Charter so that it may better reflect our interests in regards to network neutrality.

Supporting Net Neutrality is to support a democratic and collaborative agenda, to deny it is to support an oligarchical one.

Here’s a slew of resources for you to scour. Happy reading


Save The Internet:

Started FAQs:

Canada and Net Neutrality:

We are the Web:

Comcast paying to keep public out of internet debate:


Written by jon.

March 5, 2008 at 7:50 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Hear hear!

    The parallel between attacks on NN and the Iraq war is very insightful, and certainly something I hadn’t thought of. I actually didn’t know that bit about the FCC redefining broadband in 2005. Very sneaky.

    To me, one of the most daunting things about the issue as a whole is how little awareness of it exists in Canada, where that oligopoly is even more focussed.

    As for next steps, (and partially in reply to your comment on my post) I’m all for collaborating on something. As I say, what seems to be lacking is widespread awareness. There are a ton of avenues one could take to help remedy this. Some kind of event (advertised through Facebook probably) that involves getting everyone to call an MP to voice their concerns, (not at the same time of course) is one possibility. We could paint the cannon. Haha. If something that tries to reach out to such a big audience is too difficult or time-consuming, we could organize something similar within the confines of this class. It could be connected to the Media Bill of Rights.

    In another vein of thought, I’d be very enthusiastic about collaborating on something substantial in writing.

    Lots to consider!


    March 6, 2008 at 3:17 pm

  2. great post, jon! i just wrote the minister of industry an email, asking him to outline his position on net neutrality. i would encourage you to get others to send email to and lobby government officials to make net neutrality the central issue that it is. would facebook/ be other forums for you to explore so as to raise awareness about net neutrality? at this point, the only way to enact change is to alert the public of what exactly is at stake.



    April 9, 2008 at 8:35 pm

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