A business right to give preferential treatment?

The heated debate over Net neutrality made headlines again this week at the imbX show here, where a delegate highlighted that it would be increasingly challenging--with growing demand for video and broadband--to ensure all Internet users are able to access the Web without discrimination.

The heated debate over Net neutrality made headlines again this week at the imbX show here, where a delegate highlighted that it would be increasingly challenging--with growing demand for video and broadband--to ensure all Internet users are able to access the Web without discrimination.

The fundamental ideology behind Net neutrality, or Network neutrality, is to ensure the Internet is accessible to anyone and that Internet service providers (ISPs) are denied the ability to speed up or hinder the delivery of Web content or service, based on ownership, source or destination.

In short, Net neutrality "protects the consumer's right to use any equipment, content, application or service on a non-discriminatory basis without interference from the network provider", says the SavetheInternet.com Coalition--an industry lobby group that advocates the adoption of Net neutrality.

It adds: "Put simply, Net neutrality means no discrimination…[and] is the reason why the Internet has driven economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech online."

Those against this philosophy, such as the Netcompetition.org, argue that if legislated, Net neutrality--on the contrary--takes away the "freedom to innovate, invest and differentiate" to best serve customers and advance the economy.

Netcompetition.org argues that "in a free market Internet", where consumers have varying demands and needs for speed, usage, mobility, latency and reliability, network suppliers including ISPs, application and content providers, must have the ability to provide "a diversity of choices, at a diversity of prices, in order to meet the diversity of demand from users".

However, the SafetheInternet Consortium argues that "the network's only job is to move data--not choose which data to privilege, with higher quality service".

That's a philosophy I agree with wholeheartedly.

ISPs, network owners, and any suppliers that support the delivery of data over the Internet, are in a somewhat unique position.

While they may argue that they've poured private investment into building a network that ensures data is smoothly delivered across the Web, and therefore, have the right to charge varying fees for tiered service levels, the data they deliver does not belong to them.

More importantly, everyone--regardless of race, creed or class--has the right to access information one seeks, and to access this information in its entirety. All consumers also have a right to, and be given, information under the same conditions their peers around the world have been afforded.

It is for this reason, among others, that various countries worldwide have enacted Right to Information bills to ensure their citizens are provided unfettered access to public information.

Without the principles such as those espoused in Net neutrality, access to information would be severely restricted.

As journalists, we sometimes face similar forms of discrimination in our attempts to retrieve information. Some multinationals and even local government agencies give preferential treatment to certain media groups over others, offering the "privileged" ones access to company executives whilst denying other media's request for interviews with the same executives.

In two recent cases, one major multinational afforded a local publishing house dedicated time to preview a product prototype but restricted other media to a general demo. In the other incident, a local government agency selectively handed out fact sheets to journalists from a local publishing group but conveniently neglected to distribute the data to reporters from other regional and global media groups.

Granted, these organizations probably feel they have the right to decide to whom they want to disseminate their corporate data, but it's another matter to deny one group access to information when another group has been handed the same information on a silver plate. Since the information has been made publicly available to some members of the media, then it should be made publicly available to all who seek it.

Most journalists have enough companies hankering for our attention to keep us busy for decades so we're not exactly "desperate" for data, but our aim as messengers is to seek out all information and produce unbiased reports for our readers. That goal is hindered when organizations themselves decide to be biased over how messages are delivered.

It's extremely myopic and prejudicial for certain factions of the business community to provide preferential treatment, when information should always be free for all--and not just for some.

And ultimately, businesses should not be allowed to assume they have the right to apply preferential treatment where information is concerned.

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