The reason that you’re able to read Triple Pundit right now, along with 1000s of other small, independent publications is because the internet remains an essentially unregulated, free market for ideas and conversation. No website can be given priority over another in terms of access or download speed.
But the net is getting crowded and someone has to pay for infrastructure costs and increased demand for bandwidth. Although governments paid for much of the initial development of the internet, private companies (known as service providers) are now typically called upon to improve it and continue its evolution.
So, what if service providers had the power to charge certain websites an extra fee to speed up their delivery to web users? Might that be a way to cover the increasing costs of providing the service? What if it came at the expense of websites that were unwilling or unable to cough up the extra money? What would that mean for democracy and free speech and small entrepreneurs?
This debate is exactly what’s playing out right now in Washington, and between Google and Verizon. In the words of Senator Al Franken (D-MN), net neutrality represents the foremost free speech issue of our time. I agree with Franken and I’ll explain why.
First, have a quick listen to Sen. Franken spell it out to the Netroots Nation conference, in Las Vegas, a couple weeks ago:
I post Franken’s video from a liberal media rally because he’s one of the few politicians who actually understands net neutrality, and not because I think this is a partisan issue (I don’t have the gall for a Ted Stevens joke today either). Point is—shockingly few people (regardless of political persuasion) understand the gravity and significance of an “un-free Internet.” There are irrefutable arguments in favor of Net Neutrality from all mainstream political points of view.
A little historical context….
Whenever I am asked to discuss why I got involved in sustainable business media in the first place, the first thing I talk about is Johannes Gutenberg and the miraculous invention of the printing press in the 15th century.
Prior to that time, if you wanted your ideas to spread beyond your own village, you needed a cathedral full of monks to sit there and copy, by hand, whatever it was you were trying to assert. In other words, unless you were extremely wealthy and connected, you had little chance of having an influence on the world. Those were the dark ages.
The printing revolution spawned by Gutenberg spread like the wind and helped bring forth the Renaissance by dramatically lowering the barriers to publishing. Across Europe, art, science, business, philosophy… all blossomed because people could finally exchange ideas rapidly and cheaply.
Rest assured, there were likely naysayers at the time: We’re losing the art of the handwritten page! My church is losing control of the people! This guy does nothing but print funny pictures of cats! But just think for a minute about all the positive things that came hence.
The Internet (and why this is relevant to sustainability and your business)…
Today’s Internet publishing revolution is every bit as revolutionary as what took place in the 15th century—and possibly more so. Today, the barrier to publishing is essentially zero. You only need access to a computer (you don’t even need to own one). More people are publishing than ever before. If you have ever put anything on a web page—even a comment on a blog post or a Facebook update then you are a publisher. If your company has a website, then your company is a publisher, or even a media company. Tom Foremski famously attests that in today’s world, ALL companies are media companies and should think of themselves that way. All of this publishing takes place in a new, modern commons known as the Internet.
On the one hand, this means a lot of funny cats and unsubstantiated babble gets published, potentially clogging bandwidth. On the other, it means a phenomenal new Renaissance of ideas are being allowed to blossom and to be shared with more people than ever before. These new technologies create new opportunities for companies to interact with customers and stakeholders. They allow new checks and balances to expose scandal and wrongdoing. They create immense new business opportunities for individuals as well as larger companies. They increase the public’s ability to react and organize in response to both positive and negative behavior by companies and governments (see Iran). They create wealth, culture, and peace.
With regards to the business of sustainability, new media creates a monitoring system to both prevent greenwashing as well as reward companies who are “doing the right thing” with new business and goodwill.
Nothing could be worse for free speech and the new media renaissance than to allow any entity—corporate or governmental the ability to throttle the delivery of any bit of data online. To do so would invite a slippery slope that could potentially hobble the ability of new ideas, including the entire conversation about sustainability, to spread.
Thankfully, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski agrees. But the FCC alone can’t guarantee Net Neutrality. Only concerted effort from publishers and media companies like you can make Net Neutrality a permanent reality.