Yesterday, Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a resolution to repeal the FCC’s rules regarding Internet Regulation.
I’ve written extensively on the principles of Net Neutrality before, so I won’t go into their detail, but the basic tenets are as follows:
- Net Neutrality ensures that Internet users have the right to access and post lawful content of their choosing, free of discrimination or degradation by network providers.
- Equal access at an equal price, which ensures fair competition among Internet Service Providers and their affiliate technologies - despite popular belief, ISPs would still able to charge a higher rate for faster services under Net Neutrality.
- Finally, consumers must be allowed to choose the equipment they can attach to the network.
It is important to understand that these principles are attempting to reinforce the columns that support the Great Open Forum of the Internet. We are capable of public dialogue through the Internet, and I don’t think anyone would argue that it is a vital part of their daily communications.
However, most of the technology that contributes to the state of the Internet is considered to be informational is its nature. Because of this, there is little protection of free speech in the interest of public citizens who use the Internet, while there are generous protections granted to private companies who control the use through technology and infrastructure. For a quick example, compare the government’s reaction to Anonymous’ DDOS attacks on Amazon and PayPal versus their reaction to Amazon’s removal of Wikileaks from their servers. The former were labeled as a rogue gang of cyber-terrorists, while the latter were championed for using their near-monopolies to silence an organization (legally) publishing information that could damage the interests of the United States.
Think about that for just a second. If the US government finds it in their interest to take away the civil liberties of individuals and organizations using the Internet, they will do so. And they will do so with the willing aide of private companies who own or control the dominant pieces of this now vital communications technology.
Don’t forget that the Internet is firmly rooted in technology developed in the military-industrial complex during the 1970s. In its formulating years, the Internet was researched and built with funds taken from the tax payer, only later did the Pentagon hand it over to the telecommunications companies. These companies were supposed to privatize the technology in order to improve infrastructure and to wrap the country in the world wide web.
Now the corporations feel they have done enough, and are looking to introduce scarcity into a spaceless medium. The only way for them to do this in a way that increases profit shares is to create a false scarcity. False scarcity, while being a reasonable practice in suppliers of goods, is too dangerous an idea for communications technologies. It means the silencing of some in order to increase the perceived value of others. It means arbitrating the dialogue between users, and making users ignorant to the fact. It encourages the use of propaganda and advocates monetization. These effects of false scarcity online are just some of the Ideas I hope to explore in the near future.
Returning to the issue of free speech, Net Neutrality opponents believe that the existing nature of the Internet is one that protects free expression and regulation would put unfair restrictions on business development and harm investment. Not only is online free speech far from protected (there are many examples which I will cite later), but the Telecommunication Conglomerates obviously have plenty of cash lying around:
The real push behind the [anti-Net Neutrality] resolution appears to have come from a letter-writing campaign by Freedom Works and the closely affiliated tea party movement. A draft “Letter to Congress,” circulated to tea party groups, says the rules, known as net neutrality, are bad for free market principles and free speech and accuses the FCC of acting “under the cover of darkness” to “regulate the Internet whether we like it or not.”
Freedom Works is headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, who lobbied on behalf of Verizon in 2008 when he was with the firm DLA Piper US LLP. A 2005 National Journal article reported that Freedom Works accepted money from Verizon and SBC Communications Inc. (now AT&T Inc.).
The committee’s contributions came from political action committees controlled by the nation’s largest broadband and wireless companies and their trade associations: Verizon/Verizon Wireless Inc.; AT&T; Qwest Communications International Inc.; the United States Telecom Association; Comcast Corp.; Sprint Nextel Corp.; Time Warner Cable; the National Cable & Telecommunications Association; T-Mobile USA Inc. and CTIA —The Wireless Association.
Overall, the broadband industry has showered members of the subcommittee with nearly $1.3 million in contributions since 2009, according to an Investigative Reporting Workshop analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.
Luckily, the resolution will most likely not pass the Senate, and even if it does the Obama administration has threatened a veto. But just because this esoteric battle for the Internet is made to seem like a non-issue, it is anything but that if the United States continues on its trend toward a full-blow plutocracy.
Internet censorship, which is the central premise behind both sides of the Net Neutrality argument, is equally beneficial to both private interest and federal government. We underdogs fight over who’s fat cat gets the pie, only so we can lick the crumbs from the pan when they are done eating.
I understand why some might think that the future of free expression online is a bigger than the fight for Net Neutrality. Indeed, it is. However, it is an important stop-gap in the road to that future that must be fought for along the way. If corporations like Verizon are willing to lobby for its destruction, it might be worth defending, don’t you think?