By JUSTIN THOMPSON
We all travel down Campus Walk nearly every day; it is an inescapable part of attending Mary Washington. Well, imagine if next semester a private corporation swooped in and starting charging money for how you walked through campus.
Those who could afford the premium package could stroll through campus whenever they pleased, while those who lacked the means would be relegated to walking a lap around the surrounding neighborhood to get to classes. This scenario sounds insane, but it is exactly the model that large telecommunication companies envision for the Internet. Internet Neutrality, in which Internet providers do not discriminate against certain websites for any reason, is under attack. Corporations such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast want to fundamentally change the Internet as we know it.
These incredibly well funded groups are actively lobbying to privatize the Internet. If these companies were to gain complete control they could effectively regulate all aspects of Internet usage. All sites would have to buy into a specific speed “tier.” These “tiers” would, among other things, regulate how fast a webpage is loaded for an Internet user.
So, established sites will be able to load faster than smaller start-ups and blogs. This would essentially kill the ability of a small, do-it-yourself website’s ability to grow into a thriving business. Gone will be the days where an Amazon, eBay, or Facebook can rapidly grow out of obscurity into staples of everyday life. This fight for Internet Neutrality has been ongoing for years, but unfortunately it has been largely ignored by the general public. This is largely due to the intense technical jargon that goes into explaining what is at stake, but this should not be the case any longer. The implications of the privatization of our Internet will affect every single Internet user.
The efforts to own the Internet pose a terrifying future for our free-and-open network, but unfortunately this is not the only attack. If any of you all are social networking fans, you may be familiar with the legislation known as Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP (PIPA). In a nutshell, these acts will make it illegal to stream copy written material over the Internet. SOPA and PIPA would essentially force Internet providers to shut down sites that engage in copyright infringement.
This would target those sites we know and love, and are often times obsessed with, like Tumblr, Facebook and YouTube. Though infringement is definitely a bad thing, this legislation is incredibly overreaching and would essentially amount to Internet censorship. These two pieces of legislation are being pushed aggressively by the movie and music lobbies and championed by numerous Congressmen. The same members of Congress who often have little idea what this legislation actually entails. We face dire times for Internet freedom as we know it, and if these corporations get their way, the future is undoubtedly bleak.
For most, this is the busiest time of the semester. I was able to take time this weekend to contact my Congressman about this important issue. If you value the Internet as, not only a medium to procrastinate for finals and term papers, but also as one of the only true level-playing fields we have left for entrepreneurs, artists and innovators, then you should do the same. The more we educate ourselves on the dangers of Internet privatization and censorship, the easier it will be to counter those who fight to radically change the Internet as we know it.