Where is Luke Skywalker when you need one?

May 13, 2006


This week’s lecture raises the question of how power relationships are embedded in technologies, for example, the technical specifications of the internet architecture. Now it seems like Corporate America are planning to take this one step further.

Internet providers like AT&T and Verizon are lobbying the U.S. Congress to put an end to network neutrality, considered the internet's First Amendment and the key to internet freedom. According to Wikipedia, network neutrality means that the “internet transport and service system, having received valuable public right of way should not be allowed to be privately owned without open access so that owners could provide services that they own on favorable terms and thus unfairly compete with third-party services.” In other words, network neutrality prevents service provider favoring carriage of traffic to certain web sites over others. If the new bill passes, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like AT&T can dictated sites that pays them more to open more easily on your computer. This would tip the power balance further in favor of the big media conglomerates.

In the article by Galloway A, “Institutionalization”, he quoted Jon Postal on the three factors that contribute to the success of the internet, one of which is “vendor independence”. If the bill is passed, it could mean the end of internet freedom. The access and operations of websites of commercial entities, political and non-profit groups, or any other webpage for that matter, will be at the discretion of the ISPs. The vendor sites will lose their independence and be subscribed to financial or ideological arm-twisting. And ultimately, the increased costs will be passed down to consumers while the big corporations get fatter.

I’ll strip this down to the basics – rich and powerful media giants are pushing their self-serving economic interest through political and legal channels, so that they can grow to be even more rich and powerful! Politicians can then make use of the corporations to push their own political agenda in future. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Doesn’t that sound scary? Not to mention ridiculous! More chow for Corporate America and politicians so that they can bully the smaller and less powerful organizations and individuals? And maybe force the smaller companies out of business or end up buying, chewing, and spitting them out. And justifying all these in the name of free market economy where the fittest survive to provide the best and most cost-efficient service.

In essence, politicians and Corporate America are seeking to alter part of the internet protocol to gain more control over us. Will we reach a stage where “freedom” in this so called “free market economy” and "free and democratic society" loses its meaning? Where does capitalism end and socialism begin? I would say a socialistic, dictatorship-style power relation camouflaged within a “free market economy” could even be worst than unpretentious socialism itself. Because by then, there would be no “wrong” to be “righted”, if I may.

As mentioned in my earlier blog entry Entertainment Supersystem, global media consolidation has provided concentrated power into the hands of a few trans-national corporations. Due to limited choices for consumers, these big companies are exerting more control over our lives. Do we want them to grow even stronger, from a Superstar Destroyer into a Death Star? If the U.S. congress passes the bill to curb network neutrality, I fear that it will perpetuate the vicious cycle that will keep tipping the power balance towards the Dark Side (politicians and corporations) at the expense of consumers. Where is Luke Skywalker when you need one? Well, there are actually various "Skywalkers" out there, grassroots movement to counter this proposed bill, one of which is by moveon.org. For our own sake, let's rise to the occasion and join these movements! Woof! Woof! Woof!


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