by: danah boyd
Discussions concerning network neutrality have been occurring in the blogosphere for years now. Yet, at family events like Thanksgiving, i'm reminded of how incomprehensible this issue is to most educated people in this country. I'm curious if others out there are having difficulty explaining this issue (and its significance) to their parents, cousins, and other relatives who think email is a recent invention? What tactics have you taken?
Here's the best explanation i could muster:
Y'know how when you look at videos online, it's kinda slow? What if that slowness was intentional to dissuade you from watching those videos? I don't mean to get all conspiracy theory on you, but what if the cable company thought that the people putting the video up online were cutting into their main business so they choose to slow it down? What if they made it easier for you to acquire content that people paid them to serve to you? In other words, what if the network wasn't neutral? If you think of this in terms of freeways, what if the rich people were allowed to go faster than the poor people simply because they paid more taxes?
The reason that the Internet is so revolutionary is because (theoretically) anyone can get on that information highway, add information and consume others' information. While the Internet has not been the great equalizer that everyone wants, it's really important that the structure is as open as possible so that things can grow.
All around us, market forces are disrupting innovation and access. You know how you hear about neat things that phones do in other countries? The reason your phone doesn't do that is because people like me can't add things onto the phone without the permission of the telephone carriers (like Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.). This is because the mobile phone network isn't neutral. As a result, innovation is majorly hampered and in regions where there aren't these restrictions, development of new ideas is flourishing.
There are lots of ways to look at net neutrality. From one POV, you can see it as unpatriotic. It is destroying America's ability to innovate (although, from a global market perspective, you might not care or from a anti-innovation perspective, this might be a good thing). Another POV is that it's simply not fair (although you might not care about fairness and would prefer that the rich get richer). Another POV is that it closes access to information and makes certain that a few people control what information you get (again, if you're on a certain side of that equation, you might relish this).
But how do you make net neutrality something that people like my mother want to stand up and fight for? While i'm stoked that this war is going to be Goliath vs. Goliath (Google vs. the cables/carriers), i still think that educated people should understand what is going on. But i don't think that they do. And i don't think that our rhetoric around net neutrality makes any sense to them. How would you fix this?