Why Do We Need Government to Keep the Internet Safe?

Businesswoman using laptop computer on exercise ball, side view

Not that long ago, if you didn’t have a computer or Internet, there were a million resources with which to educate yourself, find out information, or gain access to certain resources. Not so anymore. Now, the Internet is a key aspect of how we educate, do business, create, and communicate. It’s as vital (if not more so) as cars, telephones, even books and libraries. As such, the need to protect an open and free Internet is a necessity that many are beginning to recognize and fight for, from former-NSA contractor gone unofficial whistle blower Edward Snowden, to members of the technology community, the academic community, and the government. That last is one of the most important aspects of controlling and maintaining an appropriate level of openness and privacy on the web, and is one that has been on the move recently.

President Barack Obama made a statement regarding the importance of a free Internet Monday, a statement that is both encouraging and important. Of course, there is a clear and present need for monitoring and assessment of government policy, follow through, and privacy outside of the government for true oversight and caution to be in place, but that doesn’t negate the role government must play.

Obama’s Position on Net Neutrality

“An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life,” wrote Obama. “By lowering the cost of launching a new idea, igniting new political movements, and bringing communities closer together, it has been one of the most significant democratizing influences the world has ever known.” The evidence of this is everywhere. Social media has become instrumental in organizing protests and dissent, news and information of the sort that keeps governments in check is increasingly online.

There’s a reason Cuba’s version of Twitter, ZunZuneo, was such a political and tense subject; perhaps one of the best destabilizing and instigating tools you can use against a government is an empowered and angry public with a system of discussing and finding common issues over which to join against an opposition. In his release, Obama discussed the importance of rules governing the U.S. Federal Communications Commissions (FCC), and dissatisfaction with past efforts to protect net neutrality. He addressed the input of public citizens, and the need to control Internet service providers.

Four Rules Going Forward

Obama listed four “bright-line rules” for keeping the Internet free and open, including rules against blocking (making legal content unavailable), throttling (slowing down certain websites but not others), and rules in favor of more transparency.

I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet,” he wrote. Lastly, he requested rules against “paid prioritization,” stating that “no service should be stuck in a ‘slow lane’ because it does not pay a fee.” In short, a sort of free market for the Internet, equal opportunity for user and businesses.

Yes, there are areas he could have mentioned but didn’t, and areas he perhaps should have mentioned but didn’t, but the fact that net neutrality is on his radar and looks likely to remain there is a comforting sign. It’s also comforting to acknowledge that while the Internet has become an integral part of our democratic right to free speech and equal access to privacy and information, it is also a major aspect of business.

The Important Role of Economy and Business in Net Neutrality

In┬ábusiness, “trust is essential to the online environment,” at least according to Cameron Kerry, visiting Fellow at Brookings Institution and part of Obama’s team on the 2012 White House Blueprint on Consumer Privacy. “Consumers who go online need to know that their information is safe and secure, and businesses depend on that trust,” he said. This business aspect of the online world is vital to keeping it safe. Sometimes moral and social issues aren’t enough to make an important issue a priority, whereas money can so quickly do so; it may sound cynical, but history and reality have confirmed it time and again.

If the Internet is not only a social, educational, and informational tool, but also an economic necessity at this point for so many businesses and for so many reasons, it becomes that much more important to protect, and that much more of a government priority. Government involvement, attention, and review is vital in an ongoing and continual sense. Net neutrality should be as carefully scrutinized and watched as big banking or bridge safety. Scratch that — considerably more so.

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