I’ve used the Internet countless times, but I have never really considered how it was developed, who maintains it, or that regardless of the site I use, they will all work equally well. I take for granted that this tool exists as it does, without considering the thoughtful foresight that has gone into maintaining net neutrality. Net neutrality is a set of rules that makes the web free, ensuring equal treatment for all Internet traffic, regardless of whether one is browsing Khan Academy videos or cat clips. This all began with the man who invented the internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who made his idea available freely, with no patent and no royalties due. The World Wide Web Consortium decided that its standards should be based on royalty-free technology, so that they could easily be adopted by anyone. He wanted the Internet to serve as many people as possible.
Mark Zuckerberg also claims that he wants to provide an app that offers free access to certain internet services, including Facebook, on mobile phones in developing countries. The app is called Internet.org. The app only offers some websites though. For this reason, a group of publishers in India pulled out of the program, saying it violated the principles of net neutrality. This violation takes advantage of impoverished people by limiting them to second-class Internet access, when Zuckerberg could find other ways to provide free Internet if he really wanted to serve others.
This is not an isolated incident. Poor people often are not protected in the same way that middle class people are because of the differences between the security of devices they can afford, the networks they connect to, and the quality of legal help they can access when their rights are violated. This digital divide continues to grow as the Internet evolves and as some websites become more powerful.
For many years, the Internet has provided equitable opportunities for people to learn and create, but this space is changing. It makes sense that it is. As a microcosm of our society, the Internet is mirroring our society’s ever growing upper and lower classes.
Some day, we may commiserate together over the death of the Internet as we know it. Will we be able to say that we fought corporatization, or will we sit back passively and watch it happen, taking for granted that the Internet will always be free?