As a disappointing and troubling surprise last week, the United States’ Federal Communications Commission announced its plans to remove regulations that enforce Net Neutrality in America. IFTF rejects this proposal.
Interactive fiction relies upon the open web. Thanks to Net Neutrality’s long-standing guarantees that American internet service providers must provide a consistent level of access to all parts of the public internet, IF — its works, and its supporting technologies and services — have remained discoverable to all US-based internet users. It has also provided a commons upon which Americans have developed and shared new IF works and technologies for all the world to enjoy and build upon further.
We do not exaggerate to suggest that literally every development in interactive fiction as we know it today has the reliable existence of the open web to thank. The hobbyist-driven re-emergence of IF in the 1990s via online discussion forums would not have likely happened without Net Neutrality-enforced openness, nor would the initial development and distribution of free IF creation tools like Inform and TADS. This holds just as true for more recent developments such as Twine, and community projects like the IF Archive, IFComp, or IFDB.
Without Net Neutrality, internet service providers would be free to limit access to parts of the internet in any way they wish. They could, for example, split internet access into a la carte services, where only wealthier customers could easily see, much less build upon, the internet beyond a handful of destinations offered in “basic cable” tiers. Less wealthy Americans would thus have trouble discovering any of the tools or services linked to in the previous paragraph, all relatively small projects hosted by either IFTF or independent, self-funded volunteers.
And that’s only one possible scenario. The loss of Net Neutrality would immediately threaten the continued existence of the open web, and all the art both extant and potential that relies on it, for all Americans. It would hurt the rest of the world as well, given the historical prevalence of globally beneficial online projects and resources created within the United States. This change could easily prove devastating to all manner of commercial and artistic innovation and communication, including interactive fiction.
For the sake of the continued growth and even basic availability of interactive fiction technology, IFTF asks its American friends to join in resisting this unwelcome and harmful change. The FCC plans to formally vote on December 14, but considers the outcome predetermined along party lines, with three Republican commissioners versus two Democratic ones. American citizens can still contact their elected representatives, as well as the FCC itself, to demand the proposal’s withdrawal. If the proposal carries as expected, then various organizations, including EFF and ACLU, will need financial support in order to legally challenge the end of Net Neutrality.