Maybe it’s just my reading list, but it seems as if a lot of people these days are afraid of the web. But it’s not the classic concern of stumbling across nasty content while surfing around.
These fears revolve around the uncertainty that arises when high powered communications tools become available to almost anyone. Institutions and companies accustomed to manipulating their audiences are finding that control slipping away.
In education, that most traditional of institutions, we have all kinds of examples of schools trying to stop blogs and other sites from entering the building. Will has even started a wiki to track this unfortunately fast growing trend.
Allowing software filters to assess the quality of internet content is a very short sighted abdication of responsibility. Instead we should be helping teachers and students learn those skills for themselves.
But the ham handed blocking of sites by some school administrators has relatively limited impact compared to the effects of other fears a few powerful people are trying to write into law.
The giant communications companies desperately want to control what passes over their wires and want their pet Congress critters to give them that authority. They fear that users will make their own choices on the web and are working hard to defeat the concept of a neutral internet, open to everyone.
I could tell you why net neutrality is important. However, Tim Berners-Lee, who actually invented the web and is one of the strongest advocates for an open and free internet, says it so much better.
The Internet is increasingly becoming the dominant medium binding us. The neutral communications medium is essential to our society. It is the basis of a fair competitive market economy. It is the basis of democracy, by which a community should decide what to do. It is the basis of science, by which humankind should decide what is true.
On the other side of things, the huge content providers, supporter of net neutrality, are very nervous about their customers actually exercising their fair use rights when it comes to their materials.
Their control mechanism takes the form of a federally-mandated broadcast flag (which has once again reared it’s ugly head), giving the big media companies the ability to lock down your computer and other digital devices.
However, all these fears don’t stop at the US borders.
The UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization has reconvened to discuss a treaty that will kill innovative Internet audio/video offerings — like podcasting, YouTube, Google Video, and Democracy Player — in order to protect the business models of a few entrenched broadcasters. This is the Broadcast Treaty, and the process — never pretty — got uglier than ever today.
Fortunately, most of these fears have not been written into law yet. Yet! Write your congressman, stay informed, blog about these issues, tell your friends, support the EFF.
All of this is too important to just sit back and hope all the giants conquer their fears.