Last week, I attended a fascinating talk on Net Neutrality hosted by Media@McGill featuring Christopher Marsden. Christopher Marsden is a professor at the School of Law at the University of Essex and a guru on the legal implications surrounding information transfer.
Net Neutrality is a term that I had heard thrown around a lot recently and I was interested in attending the talk because I still did not have a clear idea of how to define the concept and I was curious to learn more. I assumed that Net Neutrality referred to the opportunity the web provides to obtain Open Source software and applications such GIMP 2 and Open Office or the possibility the web offers to consult material made available through Open Access publishing. This talk, however, focused more on the pricing of Internet Service Providers and the regulations in place in Europe and in North America to ensure that consumers have a right to basic internet service. When I first walked into the room, I noticed that it was packed with students and faculty none of whom I recognized as being from SIS. The Power Point Intro Slide read “Medium Law and Network Neutrality – History, Common Carriage, Bottlenecks and Oligopoly “, “Oh my God!” I thought; I had no clue what that title even meant! Since I knew the speaker taught at a faculty of law, I was concerned that I had unknowingly walked into a talk directed at law students and that I should leave while I still had a chance. Luckily I stayed and learned about network capacity and the hidden costs of the internet. Most of the students and faculty present were from Communications or Media Studies. However, these issues have huge implications for Information Professionals such as librarians and I wish some of my fellow SIS students had attended.
It is fascinating to think of how fast the internet evolves and one of Chris Marsden’s points was the difficulty of Internet Service Providers to predict the changes in consumer needs and wants. Originally the internet was primarily text based and therefore basic internet service was more than adequate. However, with arrival of Napster, consumers demanded much faster network capacity (do you remember how exciting it was when a song took less than twenty minutes to download?). Now consumers want to upload photos and stream videos to their hearts’ content which requires extremely fast networks but they don`t want to pay more than they did for the basic service. The most alarming concept for me as an information professional is the idea of price scaling which means that network providers could charge more for different types of service (websites with more applications). In a tech-based society where so much information is shared on the web, especially through Web 2.0 technologies, having network services with differentiating prices would reinforce a tier-society of those who could access online information and those who could not. From Chris Marsden’s talk, I took away the idea that since network providers are companies seeking to make a profit, as librarians, we must fight to keep the information highway open to everyone by lobbying for Net Neutrality and for striving to keep our users information and technology literate through open technology in the library and programs like workshops that users to develop the knowledge and skills crucial for their advancement in our internet-based society.
Chris Marsden also took the opportunity to promote his upcoming book on the same subject as his talk Net Neutrality: towards a co-regulatory solution The book is not yet available in print but while waiting you can also pick up Chris’ previous publications Regulating the global information society (2000) and Codifying cyberspace : communications self-regulation in the age of Internet convergence (2008). I cannot say that I completely agreed with everything that he said on the topic of Net Neutrality but he is incredibly knowledgeable man and I count myself fortunate that I could attend this talk. Thank you Media@McGill for hosting this great speaker! In the future I will consult their list of events with greater interest.