MAY I SPEAK FREELY?

The public square has gone virtual.  Rather than wandering to the local square and standing on your soapbox, you can simply boot up your PC and instantly publish your content for the world to see.  But do the same laws and standards apply in the new square as did in the old square?  That is a question many are asking today.

I would be the last person to declare easy answers.  Nevertheless, I think most of us would agree net neutrality is important.  The editors of Scientific American are pushing very hard for the FCC to recategorize how Internet traffic is regulated to ensure freedom of speech online (“A To-Do List for Washington” January 2013, p. 10):

“The Federal Communications Commission must enforce policies that would protect free speech on the Internet.  The most powerful method at the commission’s disposal is to reverse policies enacted a decade ago by the FCC and reclassify broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service.  Just as the telephone companies cannot now referee your phone conversations, the owners of broadband Internet lines should not be allowed to interfere with what online content citizens have access to.”

I see two valid yet divergent perspectives here.  First, I certainly believe net neutrality is extremely important in that is falls under our First Amendment of the US Constitution.  With few exceptions (the conventional ones such as not yelling “fire” in a crowded theater), my right and your right to free expression must be protected.  It would be extremely unfair for your online content or my online content to be arbitrarily censored or eliminated.

Second, the Scientific American editors appeal by analogy to the privacy and protection afforded our telephone calls.  Just as no one interferes with our private telephone calls, likewise no one should do the same with what we publish online.

I can understand the concern being expressed here, but I don’t quite see the logic.  A big difference exists between a one-on-one phone call versus Internet-published content freely available to the public.  I just don’t see the comparison.  Let’s face it: there may be a lot of content between you and another person on the phone that neither party would ever want to see published on the Web.  Private versus public makes all the difference in the world.

Ah, well.  In the midst of this quandary much good news still lives.  We can make private phone calls (unless we are suspects in a crime).  We can publish content online for all to see.  We don’t have to worry about the government (at least in the US) being heavy handed about what we are free to publish or access.  We continue to participate in the growth of the Internet.

With the Internet comes a tremendous amount of benefit.  Somehow, we have to find a way to maintain net neutrality if we wish to continue that benefit.





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