The issue rests on current regulations that prevent big internet providers from deciding what sites you will visit, based on how much those sites can pay. The big providers want to change that, and allow those who pay them more to get their site noticed more. Sounds on the surface like the way in which advertising, or commerce in general, works. But what does it mean for us ordinary mortals of the blogosphere, for small net business owners, for political websites, charity websites, or for informational websites?
It means that if you want your page noticed, you'll no longer have to go through all the trouble of designing a compelling and aesthetically pleasing website, working hard on search engine optimization, writing good content, and providing a good experience for your reader.
You'll just have to pay great, big, humongous bucks.
Why should a writer care? Let's think about it.
- Suppose I want some music to listen to as I write. I could click on iTunes, which is currently my online music supplier of choice. But if Comcast, my cable company, opens up its own (and, with pressure from the music industry, more expensive) music company, they could, under the new law, control my access to iTunes and steer me toward their own service. That may sound like only a minor inconvenience, but it is entirely unfair.
- Suppose I want to continue my blog. In spite of the Google ads at the top, a blog like this makes only a nominal income, certainly far short of the kind of income stream that the big internet bagmen are interested in charging bloggers. Most bloggers would be forced to give up -- and therefore shut up. Now we're seriously treading on First Amendment rights.
- Suppose I publish with a small company, or I choose to create my own imprint and self-publish. What chance do I have of getting my site and my book noticed? Very little, if I have only a tiny budget and can't shell out the bucks to the internet bagmen. Again, it's put up (with extortion) or shut up.
These aren't just idle suppositions. There are already cases on the books where internet providers have attempted to block access to rival companies and services to promote their own services, and have interfered with their subscribers' rights to hold dissenting opinions. Let's not forget AOL's anti-First-Amendment attempt to block emails having to do with a website that opposed their pay-to-email plan.
The only people who seem to be in favor of scuttling net neutrality are the would-be bagmen: internet providers such as AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and AOL Time-Warner. They want to apply their own system of taxation for providing internet content. Read their justifications and you can practically hear the "ka-ching!" as the dollar signs light up in their eyes. Service to customers? Pah! That's so old-fashioned. So reality-based.
If you're concerned -- and any website owner ought to be -- please visit the Save the Internet site. Moby just joined the forces, bringing on board Artists and Musicians for Internet Freedom. How about you?