Net Neutrality and the Appellate Court: Reasons for Concern and Praise in FCC Defeat

10 04 2010

A recent ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia regarding net neutrality standards raises a bunch of far-reaching consequences for Internet users. The court’s decision stated in no uncertain terms that the Federal Communications Commission does not have the authority to regulate how Internet service providers (ISP) restrict access to content that is accessed over their electronic networks. In essence, the court handed a victory to the big media companies in this country in so far that they can decide as private industry players what you and I view online.

If this potential power grab by media companies scares you, rest assured you are not alone. At first I was one of those who felt very uneasy about the effects this decision could have on my Internet surfing. However, the more I looked into the topic, the more I realized this issue has many, many sides to it.

It is likely a safe assumption that most people who have grown nervous with the Appellate Courts decision feel this way because of possible restrictions towards online content. This is a valid concern. I also do not want one company, such as Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner or any other Internet provider, to decide what I can and cannot check out online in my home on my time. Whenever public freedom to access information is restricted, there is a problem. My own ability to judge what I want to see, read or hear online should be my decision. If this recent court ruling erodes my ability to carry out this activity, I will be one unhappy camper.

When reading about the Appellate Court’s decision, I realized that there is a hypothetical elephant in the room that must be acknowledged. The elephant -–rather issue—is in regards to what the FCC can regulate. If the FCC does not possess the regulatory power for ISPs, then who or what does? Where are the safety measures, the checks and balances to power, that are meant to secure the interests of the public at large? Sure, some claim that as a private industry, self-regulation will ensure that the public is treated fairly when it comes to Internet access. However, we have seen numerous examples of corporate debacles stemming from deregulation activities in this country and the serious ripple effects the public experiences when they occur. Considering the FCC has been sidelined in terms of regulatory activity on the Internet, this leads to my next point.

The justice system that exists today in the United States is overburdened in many ways. Political leaders, judges and citizens have cried foul over the length of time it can take for court cases to be decided in this country. If there already is a problem of case overload in our judicial system and the FCC has now been ordered to stand down from regulating Internet providers, who then will have to step up to the plate and take on these regulatory duties? It would seem that by default, the United States’ courts are set to become the go-to entity in regulating Internet accessibility, as if the courts did not have enough on their plates already! This is a particular concern because it seems this will have far-reaching effects as this massive responsibility will only clog an already over burdened justice system. Additionally, if one were to factor in the increasingly partisan politics in our nations capital, the ideological differences among politicians has slowed the process of filling vacant federal court judgeship’s to a crawl. Yet another example of what may help to further strain the administration of justice across the country.

In conclusion, I must be fair in highlighting a major point of support I have towards the Appellate Court’s ruling against the FCC. From a strict business perspective, the claim by ISPs that it is neither fair nor reasonable for bandwidth hogging applications to be charged the exact same fees as normal bandwidth users is correct. If someone is using a program online that takes up a disproportionately large amount of bandwidth so that it infringes upon the Internet experience for other users, that one user should be charged more. In simplistic terms, this concept is similar to the way taxes are determined in the United States. The more income you make, the more you pay in taxes. Similarly, the more Internet bandwidth you use, the more you pay for that usage. Conceivably, the ISPs can reinvest the extra funding generated in this way for higher bandwidth capacity cables so that the Internet experience can be consistent and reliable for all users.

Stay tuned for future developments on net neutrality as the Appellate Court ruling is a beginning, not an end, to a significantly important issue facing the future of Internet use in the United States.

Prism of Self Promotion?

10 10 2009

The online, hyper connected world can be a scary place. This can be especially true when entering the fray from a business perspective, where the intent is to cultivate interest so that revenue generation can result to some degree or another. One tool that has received significant buzz online is The Conversation Prism. What is The Conversation Prism? The answer to that question is debatable, although the most clear-cut answer comes from its creator, Brian Solis, who says that it “helps chart online conversations between the people that populate communities as well as the networks that connect the Social Web.” What does this mean? How can we trust his perspective on this issue? I wonder about the answers to those very questions. Either Solis is a rather insightful individual regarding the social media landscape or he knows how to talk himself up very well online. This maybe particularly so when you consider he has established his career based upon this information visualization.

I think that the attempt made by The Conversation Prism to provide a level of basic understanding to communication relationships is a noble one, however I do not completely agree with it. One of the most glaring problems is the coloration used throughout the visualization. Several classmates noted this during classes this week, opining that the colors simply serve to dress up the diagram at the cost of diluting the message. Since the diagram roughly takes the shape of a flower, why is it that some “petals” are warmer colors such as red, orange and yellow while others are cool colors like variations of blue and greens? Do these stipulate differences in user interactivity levels of the mediums contained within these “petals”? Had I been in charge of crafting a similar model, while maintaining the general guise of Solis’ creation, I would have done away with the color pallet, instead vesting interest in a uniform neutral background for every portion of The Conversation Prism. In this sense, there would be little or no suggestion that one area of the Prism is more dynamic, active etc. than any others.

The Conversation Prism is an interesting tool but I think it has served most poignantly as a self-promotion lightning rod for Solis. In the world that exists today, change is constant. In turn, a visual such as this will not remain up-to-date unless it is changed constantly. There are much too many social media communication channels and tools to account for and summarizing their supposed relationships in one crafty graphic is not realistic. The Conversation Prism is a resource of note but should not be used as a primary representation of online communications today. A better grasp of these complexities comes from hard work and first-hand experience in your own field. Having a poster of the Prism hanging on your office wall may look nice but trust your gut when it comes to making strategic decisions in the online space.