18 January 2012

Opposed to SOPA/PIPA? What about Net Neutrality?

Today's SOPA/PIPA (herein referred to simply as SOPA) blackouts are raising awareness of the issue. Most of the opposition to SOPA are what I call process arguments. What I mean by that is that most people don't necessarily object to the intent of the legislation, which is to prevent the spread of copyrighted works online. Rather, they object to the process and procedure: the proposed solution is too broad, it won't work, it will break DNS security, it will silence legitimate speech, it will cost businesses, etc. All of these are real and serious objections, but they're largely objections to unintended consequences, not to intent. Much of the opposition is also based upon the very real belief that many people in Congress don't know much about what they're legislating. In fact, some members of Congress seem to take pride in their technological knownothingness.

The real focus of the objection, from my perspective, is the inability of a technologically-inept Congress to translate intent into action without breaking everything else along the way. It is no wonder that this goes hand in hand with the level of trust people have in Congress. Your gut reaction is "get away from my Internets!"

How people can be so outraged over SOPA and at the same time, think net neutrality is just fine, is a mystery to me. Most of the arguments against SOPA, as I stated above, are process arguments, and they work equally well (or better) against net neutrality. Like SOPA, most people don't have any problem with the stated intent of net neutrality; in fact many believe it is an admirable goal. But those same people who fear the heavy-handed involvement of government in SOPA are perfectly OK with the involvement of government in net neutrality.

From a process perspective, people ought to be even more outraged about net neutrality. The FCC net neutrality rules were enacted without congressional authorization, in clear violation of a Court of Appeals ruling that gave them the smackdown. A bunch of political appointees and unelected bureaucrats at the FCC are making rules about the Internet without authorization from Congress. Even many of those in Congress who support net neutrality have warned the FCC to no avail. Imagine SOPA being enacted without a vote in Congress. That's precisely what happened with the FCC's net neutrality rules.

It is perhaps more difficult to clarify the unintended consequences arguments against net neutrality because both sides have already jumped the shark in painting ridiculous consequences. Additionally, those consequences will be felt primarily by businesses (the ISPs), not individuals, so the impact is certainly muted.

That being said, theoretically we're still entrusting net neutrality to Congress (even if the FCC doesn't want to play along). The technologically-inept Congress that will break the Internet with SOPA is the same Congress that wants to regulate the Internet via net neutrality. Why do you trust them on one hand and not on the other?

I know what you're thinking; SOPA and net neutrality are like apples and oranges, right? Sort of. The problem with this thinking is that people aren't arguing about the apple or the orange itself, only about the circumstances of how it got here. But they're both fruit, and for our purposes, that's all that matters.

In short: if your opposition to SOPA is based upon the process, procedure, and unintended consequences, you ought to reconsider why you're not also opposed to net neutrality. Why is your gut reaction to net neutrality not the same as it is to SOPA?
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