BridgeND | Tuesday, December 5, 2017
In fifth grade, I first got into online gaming — one game in particular. It was a silly little thing where players built up their villages, worked with other players to create “tribes” and then fought with the other players. It was rather slow and decently simple, but I played it on and off for the next few years. My tribe had people from around the English speaking world, which helped in the real time game, and spent most of our time on the forums, playing games like “king of the hill” where we’d describe in detail our capture of “the hill” from each other, inevitably turned eventually into a “crater” when someone’s latest assault got a bit out of hand.
I thought of this game for the first time in ages last week when I heard that the Federal Communications Commission was set to get rid of some of the most important protections of “net neutrality.” This idea that all internet traffic should be treated the same has done much for us and prevents internet providers from interfering with the service they provide. For instance, under the regulatory framework in question, providers may not choose which sites and services their customers will have access to, nor intentionally speed up access to preferred sites and slow down access to those of competitors. Such principles are essential to protecting the internet as it is.
I say “essential,” but there are those who would disagree. Many of the websites and services that we use today are large enough to survive or even thrive in a world without net neutrality. Companies like Facebook, for instance, would negotiate deals with providers to continue to have access to customers, and services like Netflix might even get faster as internet companies prioritize traffic going towards the highest bidder.
However, we must remember that the internet is more than a single company. The websites, services and even culture of the internet all exist because of its uniquely open and level playing field. I’ll leave it to someone more qualified than I to discuss the economic impacts of this move, but suffice it to say that with the almost monopolistic power exercised by a handful of large companies would significantly raise the barriers to entry and thus slow down innovation.
It’s a little more personal for me. The internet is a weird, crazy, ridiculous, hilarious, toxic, infuriating and beautiful place. Even referring to a single “internet” is misleading, with communities forming around the most absurd hobbies and passions. Where else for instance can one find birds with arms alongside French blogs about Chinese satellites? These aspects of the internet don’t make or break people’s lives. People can get along without a small online community based around the board game Diplomacy or a silly little online village builder and it’s precisely these things that will be the first to go. I don’t want to see that happen. Maybe it’s selfish and maybe it’s just a little bit absurd but I want to keep the internet that I grew up with just a little bit longer.
Griffin Cannon is a junior studying Political Science from South Burlington, Vermont. The viewpoints expressed in this column are those of the individual and not necessarily those of BridgeND as an organization or of literally anybody aside from himself.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.