The Internet is a portal of possibility, a level playing field for all content no matter its subject matter or relative quality.
On the Internet, your WordPress blog site is treated the same as The Fresno Bee site. Or Yahoo, for that matter. A band has access to a global audience that is equal to the biggest of stars.
On the Internet, a good idea — given enough traction — can turn into a viral sensation. Better than that, it can become a profit center.
It has created a new mom-and-pop revolution, a growth market for independent creators of all sorts — arts and crafts, music, entertainment and ideas. At the same time it allowed companies like Amazon to challenge (and in some case beat to death) national retailers, something almost unthinkable even a decade ago.
This only works, of course, if the Internet is open and "Net neutral."
If Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon can give preferential treatment to the websites they carry, the entire system breaks down. Which is why new regulations proposed by the Federal Communications Commission last week are so troubling. They pave the way for providers — if they pay for the privilege — to create "fast lanes" for Internet traffic.
At the news, tech writers everywhere rang the death bell for Net neutrality. This is important for those who believe that a free flow of information is essential to a strong democracy.
It's equally important to consumers of entertainment, especially as digital platforms become more ingrained in our lives.
We often think of censorship in terms of governmental interference. In April, China's government, for example, removed "The Big Bang Theory" from the country's video websites.
But capitalism operates its own form of censorship and the best ideas and innovations don't always win out — think Nikola Tesla's theories on electricity or the Betamax. In entertainment terms, it's more likely the rise of 3-D movies. Or the popularity of Justin Bieber.
This is the truth of Net neutrality.
For the providers, it simply represents another revenue stream. For consumers, it means paying more to view/read/listen to content with little or no control over what's being produced.
Divergent voices won't ever get shut out completely. The underground always finds a way of cutting through, and the truly innovative art and ideas will rise from the muck. It will be that much more of a struggle.
Don't blame the Internet providers. From a business standpoint, this sort of pay-to-play model is the next logical step as companies look for ways to pay for the infrastructure upgrades needed to handle increased bandwidths and carry all this information we crave. These corporations have no obligation to serve the public good.
But the government does. This seems like the time to do so. The FCC's proposed rules are in a formal public comment period that lasts 120 days. Then they will get a final vote.
Now is the time for consumers to let the FCC know that we want to stay "Net neutral."