Thursday, July 06, 2017

America’s National Parks and Net Neutrality

My family and I were fortunate enough this past month to be able to take an eighteen-day road trip to some of the United States’ incredible national parks and monuments, including Badlands, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Mount Rushmore

My wife capturing the Badlands 

I’ve taken away from that trip an appreciation of the historical efforts by individuals like John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt to legally establish what has since been called “America’s best idea”: The preservation of these uniquely beautiful areas by inventing their designation as National Parks.  This protects them for the enjoyment of the public from ownership by corporations which might charge high prices for admission, or build tourist attractions right in among the natural wonders.

During the trip, a parallel with the “ownerless” national parks occurred to me: The World Wide Web.  In similar fashion to how anyone can visit and enjoy the national parks, the Web is also effectively a platform with no corporate owner, in that anyone can set up a new page or site without needing permission from a corporation.

One of the key reasons that the Web works so well is that Internet Service Providers – the companies like Comcast and Verizon that we pay for Internet connections – aren’t currently permitted (at least in the U.S.) to restrict access to certain websites.  For example, Comcast isn’t allowed to make a deal with Google to allow you to connect to the Google+ site for free, but charge you extra to allow you to connect to Facebook.  This principle is called net neutrality.


Net neutrality is really important for the emergence of innovative new online services, too.  A new “like Netflix, but better!” startup business might very well have trouble even getting off the ground if Netflix itself could strike a deal with ISPs to greatly slow the Internet speed of new streaming video sites.

This all is relevant right now because the FCC is planning to significantly roll back net neutrality rules. This would open up actions like the above examples to ISP companies, which, understandably, will simply make whatever deals will generate the most profit.

Among ordinary citizens, one might expect that net neutrality should enjoy broad popular support across the political spectrum, both left and right -- and it does! After all, perhaps aside from ISP company executives, who wouldn’t want fast and unrestricted access to any website that they might choose to visit?

Next week on July 12, 2017, a great many websites are participating in an Internet-wide Day of Action to save net neutrality.  You can learn more and join the action here:

I’m hoping that the July 12 day of action helps our congress, as well as the general public, an understanding that our unique, shared “natural resource” of the Internet deserves the same sort of legally-guaranteed protection of open access for all that our wonderful public national parks enjoy.