Of Net Neutrality and the Independent Bookseller

Since the dawn of the Internet, when the first network expanded to connect UCLA and Stanford, all information on the Internet has been treated as equal. A jaded observer might find the result mixed — more ego-obsessed, selfie addicts and fewer well-informed, educated voters.  (One might easily call to mind similar aspects of Capitol culture in the Seventh Hunger Games, 68 years before Katnis.) However, we have evolved into a more global species because of Internet technology. It is now easier to see the world as a “connected island orbiting the Sun” when one can follow the sunrise from New Zealand to Maui from the comfort of a keyboard.

At the same time, privacy has taken a hit. Children today will not remember a time without status updates, location tagging, and checkins at every stop along a weekend. We already have a hard time imagining an employee interview in which the prospective employee’s Facebook profile hasn’t been glanced at. It’s a far cry from the always-on wall monitor in Orwell’s 1984, but the ground work has been laid.

This past Tuesday, Federal Communication Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced changes to the policy governing broadband internet providers. Until now, all traffic has been treated as equal, whereas the new policy, slated to alleviate traffic concerns voiced by Internet Service Providers, makes distinctions based on content. This seems an overly complicated solution to the problem of broadband not being considered a “common carrier” like electrical grids, water pipes, or telephone lines. The FCC could just as easily change the policy to consider broadband a Title II Telecommunication Service. Apparently, in the eyes of the FCC “all data are equal, but some are more equal that others.” Does this sound like an oddly familiar commandment from Orwell’s great Animal Farm? Chairman Wheeler has since stated that the intent of the new policy is not to create a lower bar of service, but to create a “fast lane” on the Internet, a concept explored well through Adam Sternbergh’s recent allegorical novel, Shovel Ready.

Does current technology need a “fast lane?” And do we need it at an added, extra cost to content providers, a cost most likely high enough that only a few large providers can afford to pay the toll? Could this be why the United States has some of the slowest internet speeds among first world countries? Given such slow speeds, why do we have the highest Internet rates in the world? Something doesn’t add up.

As a voice for independent booksellers, and thusly small business, we want to keep the net neutral. Find out what you can to at SaveTheInternet.com.

Team Whatnot

The collected team effort of what we talk about when we sit around and talk about books... and whatnot. @BooksandWhatnot