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Net Neutrality and Aristotle

Do we want a system in which first and faster transmission is given to websites in exchange for a higher price?

By Dena Burroughs
Published on LatinoLA: February 17, 2007


Net Neutrality and Aristotle


Given the choice of driving down the freeway, or stop-and-go down a toll road, most of us would pick the freedom of the former.

And if suddenly the right to use a freeway were given only to a privileged few, our discontent would be strong and certain.

A similar, potential case exists today in regards to the information superhighway, the Internet, while most users are still unaware of a problem.

The Internet, as we know it, is a superhighway equally accessible to all. Any search on a browser brings up hundreds, or thousands, of related websites with no discrimination of their source. We have access to the large, well-known websites and to the one-man/woman run small sites alike.

But that could change if it is left up to the broadband companies, i.e. telephone companies such as Verizon and AT&T, and Cable.

Due to booming internet use, and to the increase of information and video transmission on websites such as YouTube.com, the broadband companies are faced with a constant need to expand and improve their equipment.

Since this is, no doubt, an expensive affair, they have also thought up a way to help cover the costs: a tiered system in which they would give first and faster transmission to some websites in exchange for a higher price. This, of course, would also mean that a website not able to pay the higher price would be transmitted at a slower, second rate pace.

With such system the dynamic of the Internet as we know it, would change. No longer would small and large sites have one same chance to appear on a search. A link to a small website would most likely only show up many pages behind, after the larger, paying website links had been exhausted. As an example, picture the chances a Mom-and-Pop bookstore weblink would have to appear, if competing against a large paying company such as Amazon.com.

The Internet would be more like television, where the shows and advertisements you see belong to those companies that can pay.

This change would sorely affect the small websites‘«÷ chances of exposure, and would affect all users as far as the content available to them.

Not surprisingly, there are people organized to keep all of the above from happening, and they are going directly to the one that can do something about it: the government.

A ‘«£Net Neutrality‘«ō bill was written, which Lawrence Lessig and Robert McChesney, on a Washington Post article, define as ‘«£simply that all like Internet content must be treated alike and move at the same speed over the network. The owners of the internet‘«÷s wires can not discriminate.‘«ō

The bill failed to be passed by Congress last year, but it has been reintroduced this year to a new Democratic Congress that may be more inclined to do so. A coalition of organizations was created in an effort to support Net Neutrality legislation, and it grows every day stronger as more people sign themselves into websites such as SaveTheInternhttp://vidasalsera.aceboard.com/254274-7497-0-Academics.htmet.com.

On the other hand, the broadband companies, their paid lobbyists, and their confusingly entitled websites, i.e. HandsOffTheNet.org, stand against Net Neutrality, affirming that the bill constitutes regulating what is not broken.

Faced with this issue, and aware of both sides of the coin, one must consider which side to support. One must examine, for example from an ethical standpoint, what the correct path to follow is.

Are we to support government legislation, with the passing of the Net Neutrality bill, or not?

The ideas of Aristotle, a mastermind of the past, reputed by Dante on the Fourth Canto of his ‘«ˇInferno‘«÷ as ‘«£The Master of them that know‘«ō, can provide some guidance by which to look at this issue.

One of Aristotle‘«÷s main ideas in his Nichomachean Ethics is that the function of government is to watch out for the good of the majority of its people: ‘«£This is indeed the goal which lawgivers aim at, and men call ‘«ˇjust‘«÷ what is to the common advantage (232).

Compare the thought that government should serve the good of the majority to what Tim Wu, the man credited to have coined the term ‘«ˇNet Neutrality‘«÷ says on his website TimWu.org.
He says that the purpose of the proposed Net Neutrality legislation is ‘«£preventing behavior that may be narrowly beneficial for the carrier but that has negative spillovers for the economy and the nation.‘«ō

The tiered system that the broadband companies are considering is geared to benefit them exclusively. As Jeffrey Birnbaum wrote on the Washington Post, ‘«£if Net Neutrality fails, they will be able to recoup more of those costs than they can now from the likes of Google inc., Microsoft Corp, and other major users of the World Wide Web.‘«ō

Nowhere does their plan take into consideration the larger group - the Internet consumer - or the ways in which they would be affected. It does not examine the repercussions on the small website owner who won‘«÷t be able to pay the add-on price. It only plans to take care of the needs of one group: themselves.

Aristotle would frown upon these broadband companies‘«÷ self-servicing plans, which give little consideration to the majority of people.

Aristotle, the man who wrote: ‘«£The attainment of the good for one man alone is, to be sure, a source of satisfaction; yet to secure it for a nation and for states is nobler and more divine‘«ō (5), would stand on the side of Net Neutrality.

The passing of the Net Neutrality bill will mean that the broadband companies will have to respect the principles of an equal-for-all Internet, and that they won‘«÷t be able to give preference to a few in exchange for money.

It will mean that a small website‘«÷s link will still have a chance to show up after a search, in between other websites of any given size. It will mean the possibility of business for the small entrepreneur, or the chance to expose, share valuable information, and actually be read, for another.

There are opinions, like the one printed on an editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, that assure that Net Neutrality is ‘«£a solution in search of a problem‘«ō, and which cry: ‘«£Don‘«÷t regulate what isn‘«÷t broken.‘«ō

As a webmaster, I would rather see a legislation that is looking after the good of us, the majority. As it is, and let us be real here, the buck will be passed down to the consumers slowly but surely, one way or another. Let us not, on top of that, have our options curtailed and our opportunities diminished.

My vote is for keeping the information superhighway as is, free of any ‘«ˇtoll roads‘«÷ and ‘«ˇspeed bumps‘«÷ that could be built with someone‘«÷s money and by someone‘«÷s greed.

You are also involved, if not as a webmaster, as a consumer.

What will your stand be?





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