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Published on January 9th, 2018 | by Steve Hanley


Tech Industry To Support Net Neutrality In Legal Slugfest

January 9th, 2018 by  

Information is power — and money. The fight over net neutrality involves both. In one corner, wearing blue trunks and weighing 1.84 gigatons, are Verizon, Comcast, and the rest of the cable/telecom industry. In the other corner, wearing red trunks and weighing 1.85 gigatons, are Google, Facebook, Netflix, and the rest of the tech world. One wants to gouge consumers with fat fees to access the internet. The other wants to gorge on the torrent of cash flowing into its coffers from internet users.

net neutrality fight

If anyone tries to tell you this is about consumers and free speech, ask them if they will share some of what they’re smoking. The telecoms would have you believe net neutrality makes it too expensive to build out their broadband networks to reach underserved segments of American society. Those unfortunate people in rural America deserve to be able to watch Real Housewives of Des Moines just like city slickers do. When the tech giants tell you they are protecting Mom, apple pie, and the American Way, make sure you have a firm grasp on your wallet.

In 2014, the Federal Communications Commission, prodded by the Obama administration, decided that the internet is just a modern version of the telephone network and should be regulated as such. The telecoms cried foul and sued. The courts sided with the Obamans but the telecoms were just biding their time until there was a change in administrations.

Now with Republicans back in control of the FCC, they have gotten their revenge. In December, the commission dumped the Obama era rules into the trash and gave the telecoms the power to slow down download speeds as they see fit or even block subscribers from accessing certain sites entirely.

The Internet Association is the primary lobbying arm of the tech industry. Its members include industry giants like Google and Facebook as well as dozens of other major corporations such as Microsoft, Twitter, PayPal, Uber, and Lyft. On its home page, it says its mission is to “foster innovation, promote economic growth, and empower people through the free and open internet.” It has reacted to the recent decision of the FCC with alarm and pledged to join in a full frontal assault on the new rules in court.

As reported by the Chicago Tribune, The Internet Association released this statement on January 8, “The final version of Chairman Pai’s rule, as expected, dismantles popular net neutrality protections for consumers,” the Internet Association said. “This rule defies the will of a bipartisan majority of Americans and fails to preserve a free and open internet. IA intends to act as an intervenor in judicial action against this order and, along with our member companies, will continue our push to restore strong, enforceable net neutrality protections through a legislative solution.”

The implications for American society could not be more serious. The internet has taken over our lives but it is little different than a old fashioned library — it is a repository of information. Information may want to be free, but that is the last thing any of the corporate interests involved in this wrestling match wants.

In the telecom universe, libraries would be allowed to limit access to some books or ban them all together unless people paid the appropriate fee. In the tech universe, everyone would have access to the library but would have to pass a by a blizzard of ads to get to the books they wanted. Meanwhile, the library staff would be diligently collecting data on which book titles they examined, how long they spent browsing, and which books were checked out.

What is mildly amusing here is that the cable industry is like dinosaurs. It’s dead, it just doesn’t know it yet. People like Elon Musk are planning to replace it with global satellite networks that will bring cheap, reliable internet access to every corner of the world, bypassing the telecoms entirely. Welcome to the new world of live streaming.

What should be of more concern to the citizenry is the desire by powerful interests to limit and control their access to information. The same FCC that pulled the plug on net neutrality also engaged in a stunning feat of legerdemain last year. Employing what can only be described as magic reality, it unilaterally decided to double the permitted number of television stations and newspapers a single company can own in any given market. Immediately, right wing media giant Sinclair Broadcasting snapped up television stations and newspapers all across America. Those TV stations are now required to air infomercials between the sports and weather report that tout reactionary political messages. Expect more mind manipulation games if net neutrality is allowed to expire permanently.

Net neutrality may add or subtract from various corporate coffers, but what should be important to people is their free access to information. The alternative is the campaign of disinformation promoted by the Trump administration, which has removed all references to global warming and climate change from government websites in a desperate attempt to keep that knowledge from the public. It doesn’t take a genius to see the parallels to the orgy of book burnings that took place in Nazi Germany, a theme that was later used as the basis of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451.

America is now threatened by the digital equivalent of those dystopian book burning orgies. It’s all well and good that a powerful organization like The Internet Association has decided to lend its muscle to the fight, but ordinary citizens can’t sit back and wait for others to protect them. Believe it or not, Congress does respond to public pressure (sometimes) and people still have access to the voting booth where they are free to vote against the agents of tyranny favored by the reactionaries who dominate the Republican party these days.

Speak up. Speak out. And join us for the Fossil Free Fast Climate Resistance live stream event at 8:00 pm on January 31. Make your voice heard — before it’s too late. 


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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island and anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. His motto is, "Life is not measured by how many breaths we take but by the number of moments that take our breath away!" You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.

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