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The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Internet should remain neutral

Thursday was a key anniversary in Iran, and today is no different.

First, on Feb. 11, 1979, the Shah’s regime fell in the face of the Islamic Revolution. In brutal street fights in the country’s cities, revolutionary insurgents overcame the remainder of the Shah’s military forces. Control of the country was all but secured for the revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who became Supreme Leader in December of that year.

Second, today marks eight months to the day since Iran’s troubled election in June. Eight months ago, as supporters of reform candidate Mir-Hussein Mousavi decried President Ahmadinejad’s “victory” as fraudulent and began to organize themselves on the Internet, Iranian officials looked for ways to crush a possible insurrection.

The Iranian government found it, as protesters at state-sponsored celebrations commemorating the yesterday’s anniversary discovered. Iran’s government was able to bring in thousands of “supporters,” while the protesters’ numbers stayed modest at several hundred at best. The solution to insurrection? Shut down the Internet—something no government or company should be able to do. Ever.

Blocking protesters’ Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube accounts, as well as their Gmail and instant messaging capabilities could never fly in the United States, if America never abandons the constitutional rights to free speech and the First Amendment. It shouldn’t fly in Iran, and other countries shouldn’t let it slide, either. Communication is a fundamental right. It’s a human right, one greatly facilitated by the Internet.

What if a government or other entity—like a corporate employer, for example—could regulate who talks to whom? What if it could regulate who can educate themselves and who can’t? What if it could regulate what its people could learn about, or what they could read, even? The international community would condemn the government as a tyranny with no regard for human rights, communication included. If the international community doesn’t allow these kinds of regulations off-line, why should it allow them on the Internet?

It shouldn’t.

The Internet currently stands neutral, with no one entity having any more control over its content than any other. However, net neutrality faces growing challenges in the near future. Iran, obviously, perfectly embodies the threat to the neutrality of the Internet. So does China, with its increasing audacity and willingness to challenge search engines like Google. Even net-based companies themselves, always looking for new ways to make a larger profit, pose a threat to the freedom of the Internet. Think, for example, of having to pay to have Web sites like Facebook or Google load instantly. The free version, under this model, could take up to a minute to load pages. It would be a mild inconvenience for many, but could be a crippling blow to protesters exercising their right to organize and communicate with one another.

That right needs to be protected, and the Internet shouldn’t be allowed to become anything less than neutral. The freedom of the Internet needs protection from international laws—even treaties and trade agreements. The international community needs, with one voice, to declare the Internet neutral, and establish repercussions and punishment for any entity that infringes on that freedom.

Net neutrality’s visibility as an issue on the horizon will undeniably grow as we progress into the new decade. As countries like China and Iran continue to push the boundary, legal action on the international level will become imperative, and popular support will swing behind it.

In the meantime, we can’t let any entity push the boundary too far, and deprive us of the fundamental right to communication—on the Internet.

Will Tucker is a freshman majoring in international relations. His column runs weekly on Friday.

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