Free Internet is vital for democracy

by Ben Zefeng Zhang | Photo Editor
Published: Last Updated on

Both America and China are facing Internet freedom issues. Different from China’s online censorship, the issue in America is “net neutrality,” which has aroused a heated debate since a federal appeals court struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s appeal early this year.

According to the New York Times, this ruling allows companies to pay to stream content on faster, high speed lanes.

As an international student who has been taught the idea of free speech, and who has always been impressed by the innovative ability of the U.S., I felt compelled to share my opinion about the notion that Internet service providers should treat all digital data equally, known as the “net neutrality.”

The “marketplace  of ideas theory,” which relates to the First Amendment, suggests that all ideas, including bad ideas should be allowed to be heard. In a truly open market, more useful information will gain triumph over the less useful.

Same as Internet data. Each bit of data represents a voice in the digital world, and all of them have the right to be heard, no matter who creates them. Under the “marketplace of ideas theory,” functional data will ultimately replace worthless data online.

Most people would agree that the 21st century is the Age of the Internet. In 2012, 60 percent of Americans were on social media to engage in political or civic discussions.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech.

In this sense, all real-world speech is important and must be heard in the real world. The same applies to cyberspace. Because the Internet has become an indispensable medium for free speech, without net neutrality, a basic tenant of American democracy would be a fallacy.

The federal appeals court’s ruling satisfies Internet providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast because it lets them charge more  from content companies to deliver faster Internet service.

This will not affect powerful content providers such as Facebook, Netflix, and major TV companies such as Comcast, because they are able to pass off extra fees from Internet providers to their consumers.

According to Comcast’s first quarter report this year, its “High-Speed Internet customers increased by 383,000; [with] Revenue Growth of 9.0%.” This is its highest rate of growth in the past two years.

Alas new companies will suffer without “net neutrality.” Many small companies normally start without sufficient  financial  budgets but with innovative ideas.

However, if they cannot afford premier internet service, those ideas can be easily ignored. With better Internet access, even ordinary ideas from big companies could be disseminated successfully. The ruling creates a bottleneck for small companies, and technological innovation in the U.S could be jeopardized.

This August, President Barack Obama expressed his dissatisfaction with allowing Internet service providers to charge content providers differently in exchange for faster access.

“You have big, wealthy media companies who might be willing to pay more but then also charge more for more spectrum,” Obama said at the U.S. – Africa Business Forum.

President Obama, also claimed that he wanted to leave the Internet open so “the next Google or the next Facebook can succeed.”

Few netizens would appreciate wimpy broadband speed and endlessly spinning “loading” icons while they are surfing online.

Personally, I would like to find out what I want to know, see what I want to see, and communicate with whoever I want to communicate with in a fast broadband speed.

As far as I know, only a free internet environment will allow all these to happen at once.

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