Blake Essig

The 2008 presidential election is becoming, without hyperbole, more over-hyped than Crystal Pepsi. Recent events like Maryland 17-year-olds restoring their right of suffrage by voting in primary elections and the drop out exit of Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani show an increased public attention to the election. Even the politically disinterested who have stayed with their eyes shut, fingers in ears, in a cave or on Mars; they have heard all of the issues ad naseum. We’ve heard about foreign policy, gay rights, troop withdrawal, time travel and the sub-prime loan market. Many of these are important issues but that may not necessarily be so when our candidates are in office. National security wasn’t a hot-button issue when President George W. Bush originally vied for the presidency and look at it now. Some seemingly innocuous issues have yet to be fully recognized, and sometimes issues that have no voice need to be spoken for. Issues that are north of “Who cares” and just due southwest of “Durr” on the political map-issues like net neutrality.

Net neutrality is the concept belief that broadband networks should be free of any constraints on sites, content, services, applications or otherwise any other content. At its core, net neutrality states that corporations and government should have little to no control over where you go, what you do and how you do it-with obvious exceptions-on the Internet. With no net neutral legislation, providers like Comcast and AT&T could control how you view and how fast you see certain websites. Imagine you just got out of your 8 a.m. Friday class and you decide to spend the rest of the day gallivanting uptown in our local brewery district. You go to the bar and order a golden, delicious beer, but the bartender explains you’ll have to wait. While on the other hand, if you order a Seabreeze he can have it ready immediately. Begrudgingly, you order two Seabreezes and sit there reflecting on the numerous failures in your life. Without net neutrality, Internet Service Providers can discriminate against certain services, sites or applications that they don’t prefer because of their own affiliations, concerns-or even for no reason at all.

Net neutrality has been called over-hyped and a non-issue in Congress, but these are also the same detached souls who claimed the Internet is “a series of tubes.” Few Internet freedom acts have been passed in Congress that make it illegal to discriminate against users and fine companies for infractions. Proposed bills were filibustered and never became law-even local Representative John Boehner (R-Oh.) has voted against net neutrality. If it’s a non-issue, like most of Congress claims, then why have there been numerous investigations into companies for service discrimination already? More infamously, this includes such claims as Verizon stopping users from receiving pro-choice messages, telecom companies blocking online phone service VoIP to protect their own phone services, AOL blocking anti-AOL oriented e-mails and the FCC’s current investigation into Comcast for blocking peer-to-peer programs like Limewire and Bit Torrent. In the vastness of the Internet, how can we think these are isolated incidences? Our leading presidential candidates hold varied stances on this. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) has fairly and honestly admitted to being Internet “illiterate”-which I respect since I am actually illiterate and currently dictating this column-but he still stays true to his “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” stance that nothing should be done until a foul is committed. In contrast, Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has unequivocally stated that net neutrality is one of his priorities and has promised to implement it in his first year if elected.

Net neutrality is a lot like free speech: If you allow it to be infringed on just a little, restrictions will increase until it’s gone. Net neutrality may not be as grave as other issues right now, but it has the potential to become a controlling factor in our everyday lives.