DIGITAL APARTHEID: HOW THE END OF NET NEUTRALITY CREATES INTERNET CLASSISM
A wise man once said, enjoy the internet while it lasts, because it might not exist forever.
Over two decades have passed since Netscape went public in 1995. That triggered the revolutionary ability to browse websites. It also spurred the multi-billion dollar investments by companies like Global Crossing in the creation of the undersea and underground fiber-optic telecommunications cable networks, which in-turn drove down the cost of data transmission to nearly zero.
Browser wars led to Y2K led to the dot-com crash, which led to hacktivism, social networking, the blogosphere, the deep web and beyond. The internet has enabled open-sourcing, collaboration and innovation never before known. It is the digital world we now take for granted.
Internet has revolutionized communications. Each computer effectively functions as a neuron in the massive brain of the world wide web. And just as with a brain or hive, it is not the neurons themselves, but the connections between individual neurons, that create intelligence. In allowing connectivity between computers, the internet has manufactured a measurable worldwide intelligence.
Why do we tend to think of the internet as something important anyway? What does it mean for us to have access to it? Is it a tool to enable connectivity among all human life on planet Earth, or just the most massive collection of cat memes and pornography ever? Perhaps most important of all, why does the freedom of an open internet seem to come under constant attack? but how could have possibly done things we take for granted today, before the existence of the internet?
The internet likely represents the last effective tool that remains with which to oppose the forces of despotism in our rapidly globalizing landscape. Unlike Corporate controlled media where the wealthy have dominated our access to information, our ability to organize, and our means of earning a living, the internet has been a force for democracy under a level playing field created by Net Neutrality.
Near the beginning of the internet’s inception, the FCC put into place a regulation to guarantee an open and free internet. Part of that clause is called Net Neutrality, which regulated Internet Service Providers from differentiating between one site and another. Corporate ISPs want more money, and want to charge premium fees for the websites we visit. But they can’t do this as long as Net Neutrality rules remain in place. As the rules have stood for decades, ISPs cannot prioritize data on a pay-to-play system of browsing per the Title II classification of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as common carriers. But ISPs have lobbied hard, even placing their own people into the FCC, in their constant crusade to revoke Title II restrictions. If they are successful – if Net Neutrality dies – ISPs would be granted complete power over the internet, including the ability to outright ban certain websites on their network.
Given the possible profits and power that await ISPs following the death of Title II, it is not particularly surprising that companies like Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon have pulled out every possible legal trick in the book to to overturn Title II, and now it looks like they might actually succeed.
As Jonathan Cook of Counterpunch notes:
As soon as next month, the net could become the exclusive plaything of the biggest such corporations, determined to squeeze as much profit as possible out of bandwith. Meanwhile, the tools to help us engage in critical thinking, dissent and social mobilisation will be taken away as “net neutrality” becomes a historical footnote, a teething phase, in the “maturing” of the internet.
THE REVOLVING DOOR OF CORPORATE POLITICS
The FCC, who are supposed to act as a regulator, actually protect telecom industries by proposing “reforms to Net Neutrality.” The current chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, was served for many years as a lawyer working for the telecom giant Verizon.
President Trump appointed Pai in 2017, but the proposed death of a free and open internet goes far beyond the Donald’s presence in Washington. The Obama Administration’s FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler – who attempted to gut Net Neutrality rules in 2014 – was also a former cable industry lobbyist sponsored by Comcast, Verizon and the US Telecommunications Association, and hired Comcast Attorneys Daniel Alvarez and Matthew Del Nero during his tenure.
Despite these obvious conflicts of interest, not everyone at the FCC seems thrilled with the corporate takeover on the online universe. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed entitled “I’m on the FCC. Please stop us from killing net neutrality” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel observes the persistent questions surrounding the legitimacy of anti-net neutrality public comments submitted to FCC, as well as what appear to be tens of thousands of missing comments. She now calls for voters to make sure the proposal by Republican Chairman Ajit Pai does not go through, citing overwhelming public support for net neutrality. She also proclaimed Pai’s plan “a lousy idea” deserving of a “heated response from the millions of Americans who work and create online every day.”
IS IT WORTH THE FIGHT?
How much longer are we going to waste our energy stopping programs that should not exist? Putting a stop to insane bills and ludicrous laws? How much longer will we read about the abuses of corporations in our headlines and think to ourselves – “this has to be stopped?” Why do we tolerate this? Occupy this. March for that. Instead of building a future on the altar of our most glorious dreams, we spend our time protesting and demonstrating, signing petition after petition, wasting all of our time and energy to stop programs and initiatives that should never have been conceived of in the first place. We’re on a hamster wheel, running harder and harder and expecting different results; expecting to go somewhere. We told ourselves that if we could stop SOPA the government would get the message and leave the internet alone. We told ourselves that if we could put an end to CISPA the government would finally get the message and leave the internet alone. But they slither and squirm their way out of every new regulation and ruling. They spend all their time conceiving clever methods of implementing their agenda. How much longer can we keep this up? I’ll give it to these lobbyists, they are very clever, but they’re not very wise. How do they think this is going to end?
The FCC would do well to appeal and win this case, but they won’t because they’ve been infiltrated by industry lobbyists. We might want to establish Net Neutrality on the books for good, somehow, and set it in stone forever. Although if we do that, they’ll just find another clever way to get around the rules and control the internet – they’ll stop at nothing until we put a stop to them, and the internet has proven to be the only means of doing that by exposing their lies on a daily basis, slowly but methodically waking up the masses one post at a time. In the meantime, here are a couple of sites you can access to make your voice heard on this issue:
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Save The Internet
Go FCC Yourself
We are many, and they are few. The power to stop them is in the mirror. The fight is not over, but the time for waiting around to do something is. Take action.