Online

What Christians lose if we don’t have net neutrality

John J. Thompson

It’s been a weird couple of weeks on the digital frontier. People of faith and fans of the not-so-mainstream should particularly pay attention.

President Barack Obama officially spoke in favor of net neutrality on Monday, advising the FCC to issue rules that would prevent massive corporations from dominating the new media landscape by creating Internet “fast lanes” for themselves, while leaving smaller voices relegated to side streets and choke holds. Though the technical nuancesare more complicated than that, the simple fact is that the net is already lopsided, and as big companies get bigger (recall that Comcast is looking at buying Time Warner) competition will be reduced and prices will go up.

With Obama’s endorsement, of course, came an immediate reaction from the newly emboldened Republican leadership in the House and Senate, despite the fact that most conservative voters support net neutrality. Nevertheless, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz lashed out against net neutrality as “Obamacare for the Internet.”

In truth, the neutrality of the Web has been a boon for innovation and alternative voices since its inception. Bloggers, developers, authors, ministries and nonprofits could very easily find themselves choked out of an effective Internet presence if the Comcasts of the world get their way. Once they own the highway you can bet they’ll put up tollbooths.

Culturally engaged, thoughtful, un-politicized Christians are not worth very much money to media companies.

Now that millions of people like you and me, as well as Hollywood studios and major artists, have created content that people around the world want to access, the pipeline owners want the right to tell their customers who they can and can’t interact with online. It would be as if the Shell Oil Company bought Isuzu Motors and all of the interstate highways around Chicago, and then only allowed Isuzu owners to drive on those expressways. All you poor Ford owners would have to take the surface streets. Oh - and you probably have to use Shell gas too.

Culturally engaged, thoughtful, un-politicized Christians are not worth very much money to media companies. We’re too small of a niche. They can ignore us and it does not affect their bottom line. I’m OK with that. We have new and exciting ways to engage with each other and with people outside of our ranks, online. But I fear that if Comcast and the like get to create “fast lanes” for their preferred content and get to “throttle” the content they don’t approve of or make money from, many of the advances people of faith (and other innovators) have made into the online culture will be limited, or ended. Regulations may be imperfect, but it doesn’t look like there is any competition to otherwise keep these companies in check. I’m looking forward to an era of fresh ideas and innovations, not the full commercialization and corporatization of the Internet, so that Comcast can triple rates, kill competitors, limit choice and control the flow of online communications that they don’t own.

Christians have maybe never had a better chance to “speak into the culture” due to the reduced cost and increased access that the net offers today. Why would anyone want to hand that over to a company like Comcast? I don’t get it. Remember when each record company had their own type of records and players? Of course you don’t - that was way before any of us were born. Let’s not go back there, OK?

Topics: Online, Culture At Large, Science & Technology, News & Politics, Media, North America, Politics