Hot on the heels of the President Obama's State of the Union address, the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held hearings on "Internet Freedom and Net Neutrality" and "Protecting the Internet and Consumers through Congressional Action," respectively. These hearings were a chance for representatives from online companies and civil society organizations to present their arguments to the Senate and Congress on why or why not protecting net neutrality is important, and should be overseen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The arguments on both sides are interesting and worth understanding. However, we should look at what net neutrality means in simple terms. Senator Markey from Massachusetts said it best: "Network Neutrality is just a fancy word for non-discrimination." Meaning, if you support net neutrality, you support non-discrimination. You see, net neutrality protects innovation and the small guy. And that's what we should be fighting for: the opportunity for everyone to try; this country was built on the idea of the self-made man -- the idea that people can reinvent themselves. In this day and age the Internet is a big player in that effort, what with crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo bringing in money for everything from open hardware game consoles to potato salad. Limiting access and exposure to innovative ideas can lead to a reduced investment in small ideas, no matter how seemingly ludicrous.
At the hearings, the Vice President of Global Public Policy of Amazon.com seemed to be arguing against net neutrality under the FCC, saying that Congressional power over net neutrality -- where lobbying could come into play -- wouldn't hurt investments for the small guys. They're big and successful, so of course they don't want the competition that could bring. Don't get me wrong -- I use Amazon and the services it provides save me loads of time and money; I love it for what it is, but if something better were to come along, or if/when times change and someone else comes up with an adequate response, I want that business to have the opportunity to be successful. That being said, the FCC does need to review its latest proposal and make sure their strategies for oversight are viable; there's still work to be done.
But that's the Web I want: a non-hypocritical playing field where everyone can try; one that promotes innovation -- no matter how small the player. In talking about free Community College, Obama said, "Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new
economy, without a load of debt. Understand, you’ve got to earn
it — you’ve got to keep your grades up and graduate on time." And I think this applies largely to the open Web as well: this is your chance, and you've got to try. But at least the opportunity is there.