7:18am

Mon January 20, 2014
Columns

Burriss on Media: Net Neutrality

Dr. Larry Burriss
Dr. Larry Burriss
Credit mtsu.edu

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WMOT)  --   Let’s go way, way back to the beginnings of the Internet.
    Internet traffic, the messages we send and the web sites we establish, travel via wires or satellites established and maintained by service providers.  Since they own the wires and satellites, there is some thought they can control the content sent over “their” systems.  The idea is that big users will pay more for faster and better access.  Ordinary users will be relegated to a lower status.  In addition, there is the idea that since the service providers own the networks, should they not be allowed to determine what content is sent over “their” systems?
    Well, back in 2010 the Federal Communications Commission issued its Open Internet Order establishing “net neutrality,” saying that providers are common carriers, much like the phone company:  they have to carry any and all traffic at generally the same rate.  But now the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down the Open Internet Order.
    Here’s the conflict:  Service providers have expended great sums of money on Internet infrastructure, so should they not be allowed to set whatever rates they want, with more favorable rates going to the largest users?  And since they own the infrastructure, should they not be allowed to determine what content is, or is not, allowed on “their” system?
    On the other hand, the Internet has become almost as necessary as the telephone, where rates are controlled by various government entities (local, state and federal).  And as a common carrier, shouldn’t service providers be required to carry whatever message (with some exceptions for criminal messages, harassing messages, and so on) users want to send?
    The libertarian side of me says that since the service providers own the infrastructure, they should be allowed to do with it what they want, and let market forces prevail.  But the First Amendment and freedom of speech side of me wants net neutrality and open access, with fair and equitable access for anyone. 
    So generally speaking I’m in favor of any regulations that will enhance the free flow of information.
    I’m Larry Burriss.