Computer Privacy, Internet Freedom, and the ‘Open Internet’ Apps Challenge

net neutrality
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Following its late-December adoption of controversial “net neutrality” rules, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced a challenge for researchers, inventors, and software developers to create apps that allow users to monitor and protect Internet openness.

net neutrality

Fast Company calls the announcement a side-note to the brouhaha over how net neutrality rules “will either destroy capitalism as we know it or cement the power of the wireless oligarchs.”

Regardless of your views on net neutrality, the FCC’s newly launched Open Internet Challenge aims to collect new ideas for apps that shine light on any practice that might be inconsistent with the free and open Internet.

The submission deadline is June 1, followed by a public voting period from June 15-July 15, with the “People’s Choice Award” winner announced in August. The FCC says winners of the Open Internet Challenge will be invited to a reception at FCC headquarters in Washington, DC. Winners will have their apps and research featured on the FCC’s website and social media outlets.

“This challenge is about using the open Internet to protect the open Internet. Empowering consumers with information about their own connections will promote a vibrant, innovative, world-leading broadband ecosystem,” says FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

Does this sounds like more Big Brother spying on our Internet habits, or does it sound like an empowering way to see how we use fixed or mobile Internet connections?

Morgan Reed, the executive director of the Association for Competitive Technology and a supporter of net neutrality, explains the need for net neutrality in a different way. Due to the explosive growth in the smartphone and tablet market, there is even more pressure on wireless capabilities and increased demand for cell towers throughout the country.

“Network management isn’t a novelty, it’s an urgent necessity. For Internet users to continue to enjoy browsing, email, Facebook, gaming, streaming music, TV shows and movies, there will need to be effective spectrum management,” explained Reed in this article on The Huffington Post.

Meanwhile, Apple co-founder Steve “the Woz” Wozniak questions the impact of net neutrality rules. As he wrote in The Atlantic magazine:

“The early Internet was so accidental, it also was free and open in this sense. The Internet has become as important as anything man has ever created. But those freedoms are being chipped away. Please, I beg you, open your senses to the will of the people to keep the Internet as free as possible. Local ISP’s should provide connection to the Internet but then it should be treated as though you own those wires and can choose what to do with them when and how you want to, as long as you don’t destruct them. I don’t want to feel that whichever content supplier had the best government connections or paid the most money determined what I can watch and for how much. This is the monopolistic approach and not representative of a truly free market in the case of today’s Internet.”

Growth in the smartphone and tablet market is already putting considerable pressure on existing spectrum resources. Now imagine those 50 billion devices all competing for the same cell tower in your neighborhood – “can you hear me now” is replaced by a silent scream. Network management isn’t a novelty, it’s an urgent necessity. For internet users to continue to enjoy browsing, email, Facebook, gaming, streaming music, TV shows and movies, there will need to be effective spectrum management.
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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi's manager of digital content strategy.