opinion

If You Control the Internet, Does That Make You Master of the Universe?

Diane Duke

Today, amidst controversy on every side, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved an as-yet unpublished set of regulations that are supposed to enforce “net neutrality;” that is, to prevent Big Telecom and other big business entities from restricting access to Internet content from their rivals and, theoretically, from any other content they might want to try and block.

The regs also are supposed to prevent discrimination that would favor traffic from broadband providers or their business partners. According to an Associated Press article posted today, broadband providers will allow consumers to access “all legal online content, applications and services over their wired networks — including online calling services, Internet video and other Web applications that compete with their core businesses.”

“Today, for the first time, we are adopting rules to preserve basic Internet values,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who worked for more than a on developing the new regulations. “For the first time, we’ll have enforceable rules of the road to preserve Internet freedom and openness.”

The Republicans on the FCC don’t like it because they think it’s too much regulation. The Democrats on the FCC don’t feel that the regulations are enough. Internet pundits, free speech bloggers, media analysts and hacker-types have been abuzz all week on the potential (or non-potential) of the new regulations. And politicians on both sides of the Aisle are questioning whether the FCC has overstepped its boundaries as a regulatory body.

But as many of us know, when you do things by committee… well, it’s often impossible to come up with concepts that pleases everyone … or actually work, for that matter.

And that’s the trouble with the Internet – it’s the wild, wild West and the frontier is as infinite as a billion light years worth of uncharted territory. Between the space cowboys and would-be sheriffs, the prophets and profiteers, the pirates and the pioneers – it’s hard to say who will end up Masters of the Universe. Kinda hard to conceptualize, much less regulate so much space.

In U.K. this week, the government announced that they are considering blocking all adult sites, so that those wishing to view adult material online would have to “opt in” to view sexually explicit content. Legislators claim that this action will protect underage Internet users from being exposed to material that could have negative effects on them, while digital rights activists says the move is tantamount to “generalised censorship through the back door.”

British officials are planning to sit down and negotiate with Internet service providers, who would be blocking the content, but several ISPs have already said that the strategy will be impossible to carry out.

Just ask Australia and China.

(Photo: Courtesy of The Smithsonian Institution)

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