Monday, April 13, 2015

For the Liberty of Free Internet, to the American Government, Concerning Net Neutrality

As we all know, the only people who write in to their local, state, or federal government are either crazy conservatives or crazy liberals trying to get their #crazy ideas heard. It's always for someone who's for or against gay marriage, abortion, or any other hot button topic that has something to do with religion. Rarely do those topics affect 87% of American adults. You know what does?

That's right: the Internet. In fact, 97% of the population between 18 and 29 uses the internet, which means that almost all college students and young adults who have recently entered the workforce are on the internet, connecting, arguing, shopping, realizing their political views, gaming, blogging, etc.,etc.,etc., on and on and on, because the internet has no bounds.

As a female American college student who is twenty-one years of age, obsessed with Buzzfeed, and who has a view on the internet that only a millennial can, I feel that I am one of the best people out there to explain to you, our wonderful government, why it is that the idea of an internet controlled by corporations has most of us going "lolwut." (Which isn't a good reaction.)

For many young adults, the internet is how we connect with each other and the world around us. It's where we get our news, consume our media, meet people with the same interests, and, for college students, how we do our homework. There was, once upon a time, the possibility that one could get by without an internet connection. That idyllic time has passed. 

What people do with the internet varies. Many use it for entertainment, some use it for business, and others use it for lolcats. There are websites that allow people to raise money to eventually, at some point, maybe end up making that one product they think there's a niche for, websites that allow people to sell products they've already made, and websites that don't seem to do much of anything. You can buy anything on the internet. You can sell anything on the internet. You can make any type of website you want to. 

But is this type of freedom here to stay? 

Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Comcast, Time Warner, and AT&T, want to be able to charge users more based on the content they use, and websites more in order to be in a "fast lane," or to be able to reach users at a faster speed than the websites that didn't pay for this.

I am serious. If they succeed in making this a reality, the internet will no longer be the land of wonderful possibility it is today. Instead, it will become a wasteland of defeated dreams. (Okay, that was a little dramatic. But it will still suck.)

3 Arguments by ISPs as to Why They Should Be Able to Do This (And Why They Are Wrong)

1. It's only fair for websites that use more bandwidth to pay us more. And they'll get to the customers faster. The website is already paying you more just to exist. You are an INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER. You provide the website with a way to reach its customers. Websites that use more bandwidth do have to pay you more in order to stay up and running. Here, you're saying that you want these websites to pay you even more just so you continue giving them enough speed to be usable.

Using Netflix as an example: Customer pays Netflix so he can binge-watch the Walking Dead for 48 hours straight. Netflix pays an ISP, such as Comcast, so it can reach Walking Dead Fanatic's (Henceforth known as WDF) house. Comcast threatens Netflix: PAY MORE OR BE AS SLOW AS A ZOMBIE. Netflix refuses. Comcast slows down the connection between Netflix and WDF's house. Although WDF likes to watch zombies, he doesn't want his internet to be as slow as one. WDF gives up. Goes to Hulu, which paid Comcast more, to get his Zombie fix instead. Netflix is forced to pay more. Comcast gets more money, Netflix has to raise its price to customers. WDF is happy to be able to watch the Walking Dead at last, but wait. What's that? All of this binge watching is using too much bandwidth? He has to start paying his ISP more? He can no longer afford a monthly streaming service at all? Thanks, Comcast, thanks. Now where is WDF supposed to get his fix of smashed-in zombie heads?

The customer doesn't win in this situation. Netflix doesn't win in this situation. Comcast wins by forcing Netflix into paying more just to keep existing. If this becomes a reality, Netflix will either pay, or only continue to exist in the hearts of its millions of loved ones.

2. If we are the pathway between the website and the consumer, shouldn't we be able to control what goes through our pipes? What about the people doing illegal stuff? Well, ISP, you are not law enforcement. It's not your business if people are doing illegal things. That is the business of our government. It's not as though you're even liable for what goes through your systems, since up until this point you have been treated like a common carrier. Common carriers (telephone companies, mail trucks, and other things that transfer goods and services), legally cannot discriminate against what they are carrying, whether it's physical goods or data hurling through a space time continuum (isn't that how wifi works?). For this reason, common carriers cannot be punished if what they are carrying is illegal.

Are you saying, ISP, that you don't want to be treated like a common carrier? That you would, in fact, like to be held responsible for all of the illegal downloads of Taylor Swifts newest CD, among lots of other illegal things? Because I'm not sure that's the smartest idea, ISP. You would have to be really, really diligent in order to avoid being liable for anything. Really diligent.

3. This measure will only increase healthy competition and end up benefiting the customer. Okay, ISP, here is where you are very, very wrong. And you know you're wrong. You know why you know you're wrong? Because ISPs have a monopoly on the areas they provide to. Time Warner only provides its services to certain areas of the United States, and those areas often do no overlap with the ones Comcast provides to. Or the ones AT%T provides to. Or the ones literally any other ISP provides to. Time Warner is the only option for that area. A costumer cannot shop around to find the right ISP for her unique needs. No, a customer is stuck with the one she's got. If she wants to continue to exclusively use the internet for online shopping (isn't that the only thing women do on the internet?), then she's going to have to pay her ISP whatever it wants.

Once again, it looks like the only winner here is the ISP, not the customer.

What ISPs are trying to do is make more money. Whereas normally our capitalist market would mean it's a good thing that companies control a commodity and not the government, the monopoly situation here gives the ISPs entirely too much power. A free market economy cannot exists effectively if there is no competition.


So, my fine government that only has our best interests at heart and does everything in its power to protect its people, do you see the problem here?

Without net neutrality, ISPs will hike up their prices for both websites and customers, and will probably come up with a billing system that divides customers based on how much usage they want or need monthly, sort of like how cellular carriers do. These prices will, undoubtedly, only continue to expand with the move away from cable television and things you read in print and toward receiving those things through the internet, thus enlarging our average daily amount of usage.

It is not the right of an ISP to control, in any way, what a user is doing on the internet. It should not be able to block us from reaching certain websites because it doesn't like that website, or that website hasn't paid it enough. It should not be able to prioritize large businesses, like Spotify, over independent businesses just trying to make it in this cold, cold world. It should not be abel to prevent us from accessing the internet at all if we go over our allotted bandwidth for the month.

These ISPs, if left unchecked, would essentially end up censoring each and every one of us in some way, shape or form. You cannot let this happen. Right now, the internet is the great equalizer in America. Behind the screen, it doesn't matter what race or gender you are. All that matters is if you prefer The Backstreet Boys or *NSync and whether you are a cat person or a dog person. (That's a trick question: everyone on the internet is a cat person. No exceptions. Also, Backstreet Boys 4Eva.)

Our freedom has Americans to make our own choices about what (legal) activities we partake in is at stake. Protect our freedom, government. Do your job.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Study Abroad at RHUL: Camden Market, Sherlock, and Harry Potter

One of my absolute favorite days in London was the day trip I took with my friend Alex, where she showed me Camden Market and then we went to all of the Sherlock related places we could find. We finished with a trip to Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station.

Saturday October 18: Camden Market

Camden was, by far, the most alternative place I visited in London. Every two feet there was another tattoo and piercing shop, or a clothing store that looked like Hot Topic on steroids. It was awesome!

Since it was a Saturday, it was very crowded and I felt like I had to stick super close to Alex while we were walking around. We went to the "market" part of Camden Market and I wanted to buy everything. There were people selling things from jewelry to soap to mirrors to clothing, and I wanted it all. I did buy a scarf and a cool leather watch that had one strap that wrapped around my wrist multiple times. Unfortunately, I broke it before I made it back Stateside. 

The food stalls were really awesome and diverse. I had a hard time deciding what I would want for lunch, but then I found a mac and cheese stand, which I had to have. They don't do a lot of mac and cheese in England, so it was a little taste of home.

Another thing that contributed to the alternative atmosphere was the graffiti. The picture below features the words "Love is Art."  I also got to take a picture with the awesome tribute statue of Amy Winehouse, which was unveiled in 2014. Camden Market is an overall awesome place and was a great experience, even if it was hard to resist buying things from all of the stands.

Next Up: Sherlockian Adventures

Alex and I are both big fans of the BBC show Sherlock (starring Benedict Cumberbatch, natch), so when we heard that the Museum of London had a Sherlock Holmes themed exhibit, we had to go. The Museum of London is in The City of London, near St. Paul's Cathedral, which I visited the week before. The exhibit itself was focused on Arthur Conan Doyle's original texts, but had some features on the the adaptations. I really enjoyed the pictures and information about what London was like during Sherlock's time.

No pictures were allowed in the exhibition, but I did manage to take a completely against-the-rules picture of a coat that has actually been on Benedict Cumberbatch's body. That was exciting.

Speaking of things Benedict Cumberbatch has touched, our next stop was St. Bartholomew's Hospital, right down the street from The Museum of London. The hospital was featured in the season two finale of Sherlock, so I know Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have both been there and that was awesome.

Some other Sherlock fans had written some messages in the dirt on the windows, which was both weird and cool to see. That's more dedication than I have, for sure! I took a picture of the part of the pavement I think Benedict Cumberbatch probably laid on, too, because why not?

Our next stop was the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street (but not 221B, because that doesn't actually exist). We didn't end up paying to go into the museum, but spent a good amount of time in the gift shop, which had some cool merchandise.

There was a cool sign directing us to the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street.

Our final Sherlock related stop was the actual building where they film the entrance to 221B in the BBC show Sherlock. Here I am, modeling the cool bag I got at the Sherlock Holmes Museum that says "I am Sherlocked," a reference to the show.

The last thing on our itinerary for the day was to go to platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross station. Alex had been there before, but I obviously had not and was really looking forward to it. The line was pretty long to take a picture, but it moved fast, and before I knew it I was getting my picture taken on my way to the Hogwarts Express!

Note: The building on the left is NOT King's Cross Station, even though Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets tried to trick you into think it is. It's actually St. Pancras station, which is right beside King's Cross. It's way prettier than King's Cross, probably why they featured it in the movie.

So, that was one of my favorite, nerdy, awesome days in London! We fit a lot into one day, and I'm so glad I had the chance to spend a whole day with Alex. 

Until next time,