Dark Web or Net Neutrality. Do Something About It?

By Terry Calhoun

I was going to write this week about seeming parallels between the spread of monocultures of food plants by big agriculture and what’s happened in the past ten years with Learning Management Systems (LMS), but a couple of timely news items captured my attention. Instead I am going to urge you to do something to help preserve Net Neutrality and fend off the Dark Web.

If you don’t want to read any further, then the gist of my opinion this week is that right now is a fairly critical time for higher education institutions with regard to the next ten years of the Internet. It would be very helpful if you view this and the accompanying information about how to communicate with your federal legislators. Take a moment to do so. That way, you can be doing something about an important issue.

If you want to learn a little more about the debate, along the same lines that I have been learning, then read on!

In order to make more money, the large telecoms (Some of the same folks who are tracking our calls for the NSA.) want to change the World Wide Web’s founding principle: Net Neutrality. To me it’s kind of like they’re trying to make a limited, and therefore more expensive, resource out of an unlimited resource.

I’ve been following the debate on Net Neutrality and learning a bit more each week. At first I thought it was a simpler matter of companies like AOL wishing to charge e-mail senders a fee to ensure that their e-mails don’t “accidentally” get caught up in AOL’s spam filters. (Even that instantly sounded a bit Mafia-like to me.) But as I read more, I learned that it is a larger issue.

I find myself, almost reflexively, on the side of those who write things like:

Congress is pushing a law that would abandon the Internet's First Amendment – a principle called Network Neutrality that prevents companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from deciding which Web sites work best for you – based on what site pays them the most. If the public d'esn't speak up now, our elected officials will cave to a multimillion dollar lobbying campaign.

Save the Internet

Of course, World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee has a large influence on my opinion. Last week, speaking to that larger issue of U.S. telecom companies wanting to create a two-tier Internet system (read article here), Berners-Lee said, “What’s very important from my point of view is that there is one Web.” He said that if the U.S. allowed the companies to move forward with their plans, the World Wide Web would enter “a dark period.”

The opposing viewpoint seems to be this:

The TV4US Coalition is advocating on behalf of American customers who deserve new choices, better service, and lower costs in their television service.

TV4US: WeWantChoice.com

It’s kind of hard to find out any more details on that Web site. The message is that Congress has to act to allow more competition and less regulation, which will mean cheaper television for the masses.

Just a few minutes browsing those two sites – TV4US and SavetheInternet – can give you a clue as to which “side” actually wants to let people know details and information and nuances. Hint: It’s not TV4US.

At SavetheInternet.com, however, there is a rough transcript published from a telephone call that is apparently part of a large phone campaign going on to scare consumers into supporting the telecoms. Here’s how it g'es:

I just got a phone call by a nice lady that tried to persuade me that Net Neutrality is bad. Because there is an Internet price increase coming really, really soon, and Google wants me to pay for it.

The dialog went something like this:

(obligatory awkward call center pause)

Her: “Hello, I’m calling from a nonprofit organization called TV4US, and we call consumers about an upcoming Internet price hike. The big Internet companies, like, (small pause) Microsoft want you to pay for that. Do you think that is fair?”

Me, confused: “Uhm, what are you calling about?”

Her: “The Internet is going to be more expensive, because big companies like Microsoft and Google are wasting all our bandwidth. Do you think consumers should pay for that? Or should the big companies that are wasting the bandwidth pay for that?”

At which point I tried to argue that companies use bandwidth because consumers use their services, but of course she was trained to end her call as soon as she would hit a road block.

Now, at our end, we know that Google and Microsoft support Net Neutrality, which is not a phrase that will ever come out of that lady’s lips – at least while she’s on the job. (She is just doing her job.) And we should be pretty darned glad that some large corporations do support Net Neutrality, otherwise the changes would be a done deal.

Here’s a portion of the alert I received this week from EDUCAUSE and Internet2:

Having paid for their network connections, Internet users should be able to send and receive all lawful content, without additional charges or limitations based on who they are communicating with and why. The large telephone and cable companies, however, have developed business plans that would radically alter this model of the Internet, interfering, for example, with distance learning, inter-institutional research, and even day-to-day class participation by off-campus students.

The message that contained that was from Mark Luker, an EDUCAUSE vice president. It provides these links to an EDUCAUSE general information page, as well as a one-page summary of the issues by Mike Roberts.

Please go there and spend a few minutes sending your opinion out to where it might do some good.

Correction: My column last week relied on a Christian Science Monitor article that inaccurately described the University of Michigan Law School's classroom Internet access. The law school has not "banned" the Internet from classrooms, it has just put technology in place that permits individual faculty to prevent or allow its use as they see fit. We'll be reporting about some more advanced work to use the Internet in law school classrooms from Michigan Law in the near future.

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