Capitalism never sleeps. Without oversight by a truly representative democracy, it is a voracious creature chomping and stomping on the commons. The FCC, under the chairmanship of former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai, just handed his former employee, Comcast, AT&T and a handful internet providers a Christmas gift funded by we the taxpayers. Today’s internet is the grandchild of ARPANet, a government project and the egalitarian child of R&D efforts of scores of government agencies, all funded by we the taxpayers.
In voting to kill net neutrality, the FCC just privatized another piece of our commons and provided us with yet another example of corporate welfare.
Some brief history: In February of 2015 the Federal Communications Commission voted on Net Neutrality rules to reclassify internet service providers (ISPs) as “common carriers,” which meant that internet service providers were subject to the same rules as other utilities. The core of common carrier legislation is that ISPs must act as neutral gateways to the Internet. As such, ISPs were not allowed to speed up or slow down content passing through their networks.
All that has changed.
Pai’s push for ending net neutrality is in perfect keeping with the current Republican love for all things free and funded by the taxpayers. It is in perfect keeping with the Republican Darwinian impulse to abandon the weakest among us while rewarding the “Mr. Potters” of the world, in this case, allowing internet providers to force people to pay exorbitant premiums to avoid their “slow lanes.”
This “pay to play” system will throw cold water on startups and small businesses that will not be able to compete with the big monopolies. Internet providers will also be able to block sites that don’t fit their politics, favoring Fox News, for example, over CNN, further dividing and directing our populace into their favorite echo chambers.
One might ask what part of the commons the corporate vultures are circling next. Public utilities come to mind. Imagine a tiered, consumer caste system where your household’s level of access to electricity depends on your ability to pay. Those on level three, for example, might receive a minimum of kilowatts each day, week or month whereas those on tier one get unlimited wattage.
Congress has the power to overturn Pai's repeal of net neutrality. Make the call, but don’t expect much from “representative” Greg Walden, who recently received nearly$250,000 from the telecom industry, $86,000 of that coming from Comcast and AT&T alone, from 2015-2016, prior to his vote last March to allow ISPs to sell customers’ data.
A nonpartisan poll taken Wednesday by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation and Voice of the People concluded that 83 percent of Americans did not approve of the FCC proposal; this included three out of four Republicans polled. Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religion, or national origin in certain places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants, and places of entertainment. The FCC’s decision Thursday is discriminatory; we can expect a bevy of lawsuits based on Title II.
— Andy Seles lives in Ashland.