August 16, 2010- http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474978448715
The recent attention surrounding Verizon and Google’s agreement about net neutrality has unearthed manifold issues which are buzzing in the minds of the world’s web users- how free is the internet? And is that freedom an active function of American democracy? Much like free and fair elections, first amendment rights to free speech and the right to congregate, the Internet can be a phenomenal asset to American democracy. In fact, many modern political theorists consider the Web as a pillar of the modern public sphere. However, unlike those variables, a “neutral” Internet is not guaranteed to Americans under constitutional law.
But the issue also pulls in the more capitalistic challenges of the internet which include how to continue to strengthen the American broadband infrastructure and how ISPs can profit from the business of providing access without compromising the neutrality of the content. Certainly the US would not benefit from imposing stringent regulations on ISPs seeking to do business in the US, as the US must also consider the recent news that China has just surpassed Japan as the world’s second largest economy, and is digging in its heels to become #1. In order to remain competitive in the global economy, the business of improving upon the network infrastructure as well as encouraging healthy competition among ISPs will remain very important for the United States.
The issue of net neutrality is also inextricably enmeshed in the ongoing debate concerning Google’s policies of “Don’t Be Evil,” a mantra that has come under fire in recent years due to political fiascos such as Google’s compromises with China. Now Google stands under fire for compromising on their commitment to net-neutrality, and their credibility in the search market may take a hit as a result.
The last issue that is implicated in the net-neutrality debate is whether or not mobile access should be treated the same way that home or PC access is treated? The strains on mobile networks as evidenced by AT&T’s constant game of infrastructural catch-up since signing on with the iPhone have been widely covered, and so it’s easy to see why Verizon is anxious to nip that issue in the bud with Google at the onset.
Each of these issues is clearly significant enough to require full coverage by the news media, but there are deeper implications for American democracy and the freedom of information in the country. Americans often speak of the “right to access the world’s information” in the context of the glorious early days of the Internet, and of course, of Google’s appearance on the world’s stage. However, how far will Americans go to secure that access as a formal right? And would Americans vote for political regulations and requirements that may ultimately limit the quality of that access in favor of guaranteeing it for all?