March 12, 2018
The internet should be a public utility, Ajit Pai is obviously in the pocket of ISPs, and how to save the internet: A primer
by Peter Clark
When I tell people that I work for an independent publisher, they usually give me a confused look. For most, media is media is media. If a conglomerate happens to own a publisher, it often goes unnoticed. But being an independent publisher is a big deal. We’re free to publish whatever we want. We don’t have to cater to shareholders or a middle-of-the-road political voice that ignorantly gives air-time to opinions that are wrong—if not downright evil—in the name of fairness.
That is to say: we can be a voice of dissent.
The internet is today’s agora. It’s where we all congregate to shop, barter, share, explore, and learn. Not to freak you out, but it’s what you’re looking at right now. It’s wonderful, and we should sing a song of praise for all the good it does us. More importantly, it’s increasingly where we bring our civic-mindedness: we email congresspeople, read up on issues, get tips for natural disasters, and so forth. It’s become, simply, an essential part of our civilization, a place where commerce, news, politics, and opinion intersect.
And this is why a neutral and free internet is essential.
The term “net neutrality” has taken on its own life lately, with the Democrats trumpeting it as a sign of their past achievements and Republicans lambasting it as one more piece of overreaching regulation. So… what is it?
Essentially, net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Spectrum, and Verizon must sell access equally to all of the internet, without restrictions on content and at consistent speeds. It means that ISPs can’t put a finger on the scale to favor one kind of internet use they’re keen to encourage — that they can’t throttle bandwidth to make Google faster than Bing, for instance — though they might want to, if they, say, have some financial interest in Google.
Oddly enough, this issue doesn’t seem to be controversial. In a poll from the University of Maryland School for Public Policy last year, eighty-three percent of voters favored net neutrality. Few people want a limited, segmented, or provider-directed internet.
But in 2018, the FCC disagrees. In a 3–2 decision last year, the FCC voted to rescind net neutrality, and just last month the order went into effect.
Opponents of net neutrality like to point out that the internet grew without government regulation. From inchoate beginnings in the early nineties, the modern information superhighway has come to represent over a trillion dollars in GDP economic value in 2016.
There’s truth there, but it’s misleading. It would have made no sense to regulate ISPs before the market was a certain size. At the unregulated dawn of the telephone age, Ma Belle sprouted up; once it grew massive and monopolistic, it became subject to decades of increasing regulatory oversight and antitrust measures. In 2014, Obama implicitly embraced a parallel view of the internet when he asked the FCC to classify ISPs as utilities and regulate them.
Now that the internet has grown massive in scope, regulation is required. Given what the internet is and how it’s used, the idea that we should tolerate the monetization of access is preposterous.
Now might be a good time to mention that there’s also likely a lot of corruption involved in the recent FCC ruling. If FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is the most hated man on the internet, it’s for good reason. Aside from drinking from a much-too-large-please-grow-up coffee mug, he’s currently under investigation amid charges that he hastily rushed through deregulatory measures to benefit friends at Sinclair Media.
Take it from an indie publisher — it would be a dark future where our blog (hi!) and online store (hello!) aren’t reachable on equal footing with other web pages. And even if you’re not an indie publisher, if you’re like David Lazarus at the LA Times, you could see your internet bill jump by twenty percent.
Fortunately, the fight isn’t over yet.
As it stands today, we’re one vote away from the Senate being able to invoke the Congressional Review Act, which would allow congress to override the FCC ruling from last December.
Writing congress has never been easier… thanks again to the open internet. More information and direct links to your congresspeople can be found at www.battleforthenet.com.
Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.