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Beth Cox Report: February 2014
Dear Loyal Readers, Authors, and Publishers,
I majored in computer science at college. In the sense of "passed enough computer courses to earn a piece of paper that says I did."
That was almost twenty years ago. Times have changed so drastically that most of what I learned about computers is obsolete. Today, I retain just enough familiarity with the computing world to (barely) comprehend its basic concepts.
One of these ideas is "net neutrality", a term coined by Columbia media law professor Tim Wu. Wikipedia provides an in-depth explanation of net neutrality in their article at
but I'll summarize my understanding of it in plain terms. Please note, this is only the tip of the metaphorical iceberg... there is more nuance to the issue than I can explain here.
Essentially, "net neutrality" is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) must not discriminate among the many, many packets of digital information they process every day. They should not show preferential treatment to any website on the internet; nor should they prevent any website from being viewed (no involuntary censoring or filtering, and no blocking traffic to slow page loading on any specific website.)
In other words, person A has as much right to watch a YouTube video of kittens as person B has to browse the MBR's website, or person C has to look at online pornography. As long as the internet content is lawful, ISPs are obligated to serve it all equally - none of the online content viewed by A, B, or C should be specifically targeted for a gigantic lag spike or long loading times.
Generally speaking, ISPs do not like the idea net neutrality.
I personally have encountered only one argument against net neutrality that I believe has some merit: the idea that potentially lifesaving digital information (for example, anything transmitted by medical devices in a hospital) deserves a higher priority than random YouTube videos. Whether such priorities could ever be implemented in a fair, balanced, and practical manner is another question entirely.
Some ISPs note that a typical YouTube video requires significantly more internet data traffic ("bandwidth") than, say, looking at the MBR's website. So why shouldn't ISPs demand more money to facilitate the extra burden? Why shouldn't they let YouTube videos lag and stutter to a crawl if no one (whether it's YouTube, or ordinary ISP customers like you or me, or both) pays them that additional fee?
Until recently, the answer was "because America has laws enforcing net neutrality". That's no longer quite so certain. A federal court ruling has struck down America's existing net neutrality regulations, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided not to appeal the verdict.
Is this the end of net neutrality in America? That isn't a certainty either, according to a recent article by the Washington Post:
According to the article, the FCC has resolved to rewrite the rules governing Internet traffic. Here's a brief quote: "The FCC said new rules will ban Internet service providers such as Verizon and Time Warner Cable from blocking Web sites or charging a firm like Netflix more for faster and smoother delivery of content."
ISPs answer to their shareholders like any other business, which means they are out to seize as much money as they can. In a competitive business environment, the risk of losing customers to their rivals might keep prices down; the problem is that, in many parts of America, there is little or no competition between ISPs. Some remote places can only get service by satellite; others can only choose between telephone line-based or cable-based providers.
It is lucrative for monopolies to create artificial scarcity and drive up prices as high as they can get away with. When the monopoly sells something people need (and in the twenty-first century, almost everyone needs internet service!), the one force that can keep a monopoly in check is legal regulation. For the sake of the entire nation of America, I hope the FCC quickly drafts an effective set of new rules, and enforces them well.
Now for February's Link of the Month - actually two links, both of which I should have added to the MBR's Writer Resources page years ago. They are Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com:
Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com are exactly what their names say; a free, searchable, online dictionary and thesaurus, completely open to the public. I personally make use of dictionary.com whenever I need to double-check an exotic word or place name's spelling, or pronunciation! Clicking on the little "speaker" icon next to the word lets me listen a voice saying the word aloud.
I'll conclude with February's Review of the Month. This is a book for young adults that taught me something about American history:
The Girl from the Tar Paper School
Abrams Books for Young Readers
c/o Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
115 West 18th Street, 6th floor
New York, NY 10011
9781419707964 $19.95 www.abramsbooks.com
Ideal for young readers ages 10 to 14+, The Girl from the Tar Paper School is a nonfiction, picturebook chronicle of a young African-American woman who used nonviolent civil disobedience to stand up for what she believed in. Before Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. were household names, Barbara Rose Johns was an African-American teenager forced to go to an inferior, segregated school and receive a substandard education. She and her classmates went to school in "tar paper shacks" - rickety wooden buildings covered in tar paper. Though they were promised a new school equal to the whites-only school across town, time passed and she knew the tar paper shacks would become permanent if she did not take action. She led her classmates in a peaceful boycott to draw attention to the atrocious condition of their inferior school. Her bravery was repaid with public ridicule, even a cross burning on her school grounds, but she and her classmates would not give up. The NAACP championed her school's case in the court system, eventually culminating in the landmark Supreme Court decision "Brown v. Board of Education" in 1954, outlawing segregation. A wealth of archival photographs, a glossary, and an index round out this true-life history, worthy of the highest recommendation especially for school and public library children's collections.
Education is the key to every young person's future, and the Supreme Court decision to integrate America's schools is well-known. But I didn't know that the court case existed only because sixteen-year-old Barbara Rose Johns and other young students had the courage to take a nonviolent stand. This was a dangerous risk in the 1950's South.
That's all for the February 2014 Beth Cox Report. Learning isn't just life-long - it's a way of life!
The Midwest Book Review
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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