Today Congress is holding hearings on what, if passed, would effectively become a censorship system for the internet. The threat comes in the form of two bills, currently making their way through the legislative process – Protect IP Act (PIPA – S.968) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA – H.R.3261). Below is a video that describes the bills and their potential impact (and you can read more at http://americancensorship.org/):
The effective censorship of websites (by blocking or slowing access to them) is what I find particularly disturbing. We already have a fundamental access problem on the internet. As internet access becomes increasingly important to society – truly part of the fabric of our democratic society – lack of access to the internet (and lack of high speed access) is becoming an increasing social and economic issue. Lack of internet access contributes to an increasing gulf in our society. And it’s a problem that government has recognized – for example when it required Comcast to offer low income households favorable rates on internet access in exchange for granting approval to the Comcast/NBC merger. I’m not arguing (at least in this post) for some kind of universal service fund for broadband access (and as a “capitalist” by title, I hope that the primary solution to this can be a market driven one). I’m pointing out that we already have some challenges around access to the internet that we haven’t even addressed. And now we’re talking about layering on an access hierarchy on the other side of the equation. The vast majority of the increase in the productivity of the american worker that we’ve seen over the past few decades has been driven by technological innovation (we’re working smarter, more than we’re working harder). Do we really want to take a primary driver of that technology innovation – the internet – and set up a system that effectively stifles the ability of new companies and new technologies to reach users? A system that rewards the embedded power structure of big business in the United States? I’m not arguing in favor of web piracy. I’m arguing for common sense. And against trusting the people who sued to block the VCR and MP3 players from coming into existence (two technologies, which they later ended up significantly benefitting from) by giving them the power to effectively shut down new businesses and censor our access to new technologies.
There’s a reason that the backbone of the internet is governed by “peering” relationships. We’re all peers on the internet. Let’s not forget that.