Repealing Net Neutrality will bring class to the internet
Ifyou haven’t heard by now, you must have spent the last week in a pretty radical post-Thanksgiving food coma.
Last Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission helmed by Scrooge McDuck impersonator Ajit Pai announced its plans to repeal the core provisions of net neutrality.
Think about this: repealing net neutrality is deregulation. Yeah, that fun word that may or may not have been the cause of the 2008 financial crash? Yeah it’s that, but instead of Wall Street, it’s the internet.
As any armchair political scientist knows, deregulation allows corporations to place a profit motive before any other ethical considerations, and acquire that profit by whatever means necessary regardless of its implications for the consumer or the public at large.
In non-technical terms:
Imagine in a year having to pay your internet service provider extra if you want the internet to load at the speed it does right now.
That’s obnoxious. Wrong. It’s downright criminal.
Oh, they’d never charge us for that. Wrong again.
Immediately following the announcement from the FCC, Comcast walked back its promise not to offer paid prioritization, opting for a vaguer commitment not to discriminate against “lawful content.” They failed to provide any clarification as to what passes for “lawful” content by Comcast’s standards. Without net neutrality regulations ISP’s like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T will be enabled to charge whatever they want for the utility they already provide, without regulation by the FCC — and they will exploit it.
The telecom industry has much to gain from doing away with net neutrality, but it is not just them; corporate actors across all industries will benefit from an unequal internet.
The repeal of net neutrality will striate the internet into socioeconomic classes, in which the wealthiest sites, companies, individuals, super PACs, organizations, etc. will be privileged above the hundreds of thousands of startups, bloggers, artists, nonprofits, and education programs who can’t afford to compete. If ISP’s like Comcast will charge customers for high browsing speeds, it is inevitable they will offer sites and content providers themselves options for high (AKA normal) speeds and access.
Think about it like this:
You’re a business owner. You’ve got a cool product. Demand is there. All you need is a website. You start your 14-day trial on Squarespace, pick a cool logo, get some stock images of millennials in jean jackets, and you’re ready to launch. Then BAM.
Hello, welcome to Comcast. That’ll be $499 a month for your website to load in under an hour. $899 for it to load in under half an hour. Or, if you’re feeling really bold, $1,599 for it to load at the same speed it did before Ajit Pai became infamous.
Good luck topping the Forbes 30 Under 30 list when your site won’t load in under thirty minutes.
The giants, Facebook, Youtube, PornHub, whatever, won’t have a problem: they’ll just pay the rate and their sites won’t be throttled or blocked. Maybe they don’t want to pay the piper that extra kick back, but they sure as hell will relish the drop in competition.
It is the smaller companies, the startups, the self-starters, the freelancers, which will be devastated. Educational sites, nonprofits, independent news organizations, and blogs, will be equally screwed when their only means of public engagement is an open internet. If you’re a 22-year old entrepreneur like me, good luck getting your brand out without some pretty generous venture capitalists. Good SEO can’t even help us there.
This change to the fabric of the digital generation will cause innovators, tech entrepreneurs, and self-employers to flee the US en masse. The very thing that has made the United States the center for global commerce and innovation will be deleted. If that doesn’t go against American principles, I don’t know what does.
But the more insidious specter looming over this issue is that of freedom of speech. Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, etc. have vested political interests. Corporate ISP’s will fully use a lack of net neutrality to block the content that goes counter to their interests. It’s like When Donald Trump tweeted that he would censor his media enemies, Pai spent six days without comment until he finally came out to say that the fed wouldn’t do that, much to Trump’s chagrin. But that doesn’t mean that private corporations won’t do it.
Political actors, donors, and lobbyists will have even more effective anti-democratic tools to censor the voices with which they disagree. Hell, it would be tragically unsurprising if in a few years it were common practice for ISP’s to offer to throttle or block the content of political opponents. Censor your enemies! Only $500,000 a month until election day!
Should net neutrality be wiped out, progressive voices calling for greater regulation, trust-busting, and an end to corporate impunity may very well be silenced, blocked or — Error 404 Page Not Found.
Weshould change our terminology. Not “net neutrality,” but internet equality. This issue is every bit as vital to the future of our country as environmental conservation, tax reform, health care provision, and immigration protection. I like the internet because it enables me to market myself, my work, and my business to the world, and it gives me virtually free access to the combined knowledge of the human race. Until the internet is classified as a utility, not something to be bought and sold and withheld by internet service providers, entrepreneurship and freedom of information will be only available to the wealthiest class.