With the recent FCC vote on net neutrality there have been a slew of articles coming out both in support and opposition to the 3-2 vote for the FCC to regulate the internet. But in all these articles they often isolate the conversation to the way net neutrality impacts the internet when in actuality the internet, whether we like it or not, is such an integral part of our society that this vote has greater implications beyond the web. In that light, I wanted to reflect on net neutrality’s relevance to the environmental movement.
The net neutrality debate asks can private interest control, purchase, or own an amount of public space? And if yes, then how much? Because the internet has been officially reclassified as a public utility, there might be more relevant legal comparisons, but the internet is undoubtedly a space people inhabit. People today exist in two spheres: the present and the telepresent. People spend just as much time logged into the digital world as existing in the physical world. And when they’re logged in the presence they share with others online, while simultaneously taking up physical space with their person, is telepresence. We need to value, protect, and debate the best use for our telepresent space in the same way we value and protect our present, natural, world.
As a public space, the net neutrality debate is similar to the recent disputes over land use in national parks and forests. Whereas the national parks and forests often deal with timber and mining companies wanting to use more natural resources or developments wanting to create resorts, net neutrality deals with service provides and the public’s access to information and media. But both focus on the way we preserve and utilize these spaces. They ask whether it’s best practice to allow private interest to alter a landscape that everyone can have access to and that has largely remained unchanged.
What we let happen to the digital world will set the tone for the physical world and vice-versa. The two don’t act in isolation from each other, they are seamlessly intertwined like an ecosystem. If you’re reading this you’re using the internet to do it, just the same as I’m using the internet to share it with you. We all have a stake in this. Now it’s time to tell Congress how you feel this resource should be best used, because we’re not quite out the woods yet.