Damian Kulash of the musical group, OK Go, recently shared his thoughts via The Washington Post on net neutrality. He joined the bandwagon of open network proponents that call broadband access communications and a civil right.
Are we really using the Internet to communicate in the way that communications is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission? Yes, we post our thoughts on Facebook and Twitter. We write blogs on everything from politics to grandma’s cookie recipe. We e-mail each other about business meetings and the feelings we have for a lover at the office. But currently, under the law, none of this is the communications that the FCC and its sister regulatory agencies on the state level regulates.
The communications that the FCC should be concerned about is the instantaneous, two-way communications that we employ via radio and telephone. The communications that the FCC should be concerned about is not the accessing of information posted on an electronic bulletin board for someone to access at their leisure. Rather, communications between a mother and the fire department that not only exchanges information immediately but also will call for some immediate action is at the center of communications that the FCC should be regulating.
Ask any fireman or cop in New York on 11 September 2001 what they would have considered to be true communications and they would have told you a telephone. E-mail just would not have cut it that day. Even if Facebook and Twitter were around in 2001, no public safety officer in their right mind would have considered those platforms as communications.
Broadband access services provide you access to information. These services provide you access to digital product, but to call them communications is a stretch. An example would be a grocery store. You enter the store via a door, but walking through the door is not communications. You look around the store and check out the items. The communications occurs when you instantaneously exchange your ideas about the products in the store with your friends and family. Merely walking into the store doesn‘t communicate anything.
What also has me concerned is this civil rights comparison. I have too much respect for my ancestors who fought, bled, and died for the right to access certain public accommodations and to enjoy the same privileges to vote as whites to liken their experience to a bunch of little electrons moving through space, whether on a wire or not.
Give me a break. Civil rights for bits of electronic data? it’s a sad commentary on our society when we equate the government’s abridgement of the right to access public accommodations with a private company’s business judgment regarding the management of networks that are not considered public accommodations. Broadband access providers are not common carriers. Any reading of the law within the context of civil rights would lead you to that conclusion.
The irony of the discussion is that with all the unimpeded access we have to information, why are we being willfully ignorant about what the law says? Why are we not studying the civil rights law and understanding what it really means before launching off into baseless comparisons?
Instead of screaming about civil rights, maybe we should be exercising our duty to be fully informed.