Rich and poor alike deserve equal service
Decisions about how the Internet will be governed are being made right now. People of faith can and should help shape them.
The immediate debate surrounds net neutrality. The Federal Communications Commission is considering a set of regulations that touch on whether all online content producers should be allowed equal service.
The aspect of the proposed rules getting the most attention is often described in terms of lanes: should Internet Service Providers (such as Comcast and Verizon) have the power to allow a fast lane and a slow lane for web content producers (YouTube, WordPress)? The proposed rules would allow wealthy interests like corporations to be guaranteed the fast lane for a fee. Others — most likely those who couldn’t afford it — would be stuck in the slow lane, where their pages might take longer to load or videos might not stream as seamlessly.
There could be some benefits to the concept. What if violent or sexually explicit content producers had to pay a fee to be in a fast lane?
Yet, when money enters the picture, concerns over justice for the poor arise. Imbalance increases when corporation-funded lobbying influences decisions. Churches, online faith communities and nonprofits are more likely to suffer the consequences of less-equal service than large, for-profit corporations. In countries like China, where Internet use is heavily regulated, innovation and opportunity suffer.
There may never have been a truly equal Internet. Money buys advantages for users, providers and content producers online every day. This is not the first decision to determine fair access to Internet content — and all the information and community that comes with it. And it won’t be the last.
Questions have already arisen and been decided, such as: Is it OK for search engines to yield links to pornography? Will virtual crimes, where no physical interaction has occurred, be tried as physical world crimes? Can users assume a fake identity online?
But in this case, right now, the public is asked to respond. Until Sept. 10, anyone can weigh in on how to regulate web content provision and production at fcc.gov.
These decisions touch on the most important thing about the Internet in terms of human equality: accessibility. The Internet was created with the intention to give equal access to online networks, information and innovation. Collaborative communities like MennoNerds.com and the Anabaptist Alliance formed online as a result.
The digital divide between the rich and the poor is already great. Regulations that favor those with money will only increase it.
If Christians don’t take part in the conversation, they are missing an opportunity to say all God’s people deserve the same access to information and communities online.
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