When I started my career, I was not certain that I wanted to be a technologist. I took a job with a higher education publisher because I thought that books and education were cool. My experience there excited me about software development and I took on a voracious appetite to learn how to build software.
What was interesting about this time was that you couldn’t just decide you wanted to learn how to program as an adult, at least not easily. This was because most of the software programming languages actually cost a significant amount of money to buy, as did the books and courses to learn how, even if you could get access. There were several enormous barriers to entry in the way of prospective developers including: money, status, and corporate sponsorship, all before hard work. Then there was bandwidth: even if you could get the other parts to line up, you still had to go home to a dial-up internet service provider and try to pull down whatever content you were lucky enough to find over a small pipe.
This all changed when the world wide web started to roll out in full force. Soon people were publishing courses on how to program different languages. Not long after that, we started to see more powerful software like programming languages and operating systems get open sourced. This was the beginning of a new kind of free culture that was put on hyper-speed once broadband internet made its way into homes and schools.
Along with these developments came the ability for any average person to get an idea and learn how to implement and distribute it freely and quickly. Sure, you still needed access to computers and networks, but the price of these had been driven down so much that it was virtually free to innovate with little up front investment.
The specter of the repeal of net neutrality runs the risk of taking us back to a different time. This would be one where access could be throttled for those who cannot afford the same fee structure. I’ve forgotten what it was exactly like to try and pull down file archives from a dial-up bulletin board, but I remember it being awful.
Net neutrality was the concept that all content should be treated equally by internet providers based on consumer choice. This implied that delivery and content should be separate in order to keep organizations from favoring their own content.
The Master Switch by Tim Wu is the authoritative text on the subject. It was eye opening when it was published 7 years ago, and slightly more terrifying now. We’ve been watching convergence of bandwidth, content and copyright happen at a speed that we have never seen before, and now, the lobbying pressure has been put on full blast for the FCC to eliminate Net Neutrality provisions.
I don’t want to go back to a world where information is expensive. Where its hard to create new things because you simply cannot afford the tools. I hope you don’t either.
Do what’s in your power to get educated on net neutrality and the battle for the open web. Talk to your friends, relatives and congressional representatives. The cable companies and wireless firms are utilities that provide a public service and should be treated as such. Putting velvet ropes around the best parts of the web will not accomplish anything other than slow our productivity and stifle innovation.