Commentary | January 19, 2012

The Private Sector, Internet Policy, and SOPA

EWI's Graham Webster, writing for Al Jazeera English, examines controversial Internet legislation before the U.S. Congress and underlines the role of the private sector in communication policy.

It would have been the most expensive political ad buy in the history of the world. Google's search engine, the most visited website in the world, displays a black block over its logo. Wikipedia, the sixth most visited site globally, has disabled its English-language service. This unprecedented action to oppose legislation under consideration in the US Congress signals the importance of the private sector in Internet policy - and it won't stop here..

Private companies are almost entirely responsible for your ability to read this article. The text travelled through a purchased operating system, over an enterprise office network, through privately-owned wires and fibre optic cables, and finally reached the privately-run "cloud" service in which it was composed. If you're overseas from Al Jazeera's servers, the message also travelled through privately-owned undersea cables-the bedrock of international communication and finance.

Many experts, including Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard and the leaders of the MIT Media Lab, have described in detail the threat to free speech, innovation, and the technology business posed by the legislation: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate. Most people, however, learned of the controversy through today's online demonstrations, in which the online goliaths of our day have filled the picket lines.

Read the full piece at Al Jazeera English.

Graham Webster is a public policy and communications officer at the EastWest Institute and an independent analyst on East Asian politics and technology.