Did We Just Trade Away the Internet?

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Did we just trade away the Internet? It sure looks that way.

Don’t take me too literally. We’ll always have something called “the Internet”. It just won’t necessarily be the real Internet, the one we’ve come to take for granted.

By which I mean the open Internet – the one featuring a precious jewel called “net neutrality”.

We’ve washed our hands of that Internet. To get what we got, to do what we did, to deal ourselves the cards we dealt – we bargained it away.

During his campaign, the winning candidate got lots of derision for proposing to “shut down” the Internet as a way of combating terrorism. (Not that terrorists themselves wouldn’t shut it down if they could.)

In the laughter, few of us noticed – and fewer discussed – his more serious promise to abolish net neutrality.

The Internet, from its birth, has been a resource freely and equally available to all. Granted, Google and Amazon can hire more coders and deploy bigger servers. But you or I can put up a site of our own that runs just as fast and is just as visible as any of theirs.

This equal-access feature has empowered millions of creative startups and Internet entrepreneurs. Without it, the Web today would not be the Web as we know it. Who doesn’t love that?

Here’s who: Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon! For years, they’ve been demanding the power to censor Web content. They want to throttle sites they don’t like and push those they do (including, but not limited to, their own).

Most of all, they want to create high-priced, pay-to-play “fast lanes” whereby they’ll extract big bucks from deep-pocket conglomerates like Netflix. Ordinary citizens need not apply.

After long struggle, the FCC recently upheld and enforced the net neutrality principle that has distinguished the Internet since its birth. Telecoms were required to treat all traffic equally. That’s good for you and me.

Every few days, the telecom industry takes the FCC to court, challenging its net neutrality rules. So far, the Obama administration has prevailed.

On alternate days, Congress – more accurately known as the telecom industry’s legislative arm – passes bills killing net neutrality. But Congress has thus far been unable to override the Democratic President’s veto.

Not to fret. Our new populist-in-chief has pledged to take the Internet away from the populace (us) and give it to the giant telecoms. Killing net neutrality and in effect privatizing the Web.

Bills to that effect already are pending in Congress. It won’t be hard; they only need to dust off a previously vetoed version.

Should you complain to your reps in Congress? Sure, but don’t be surprised if their response is a rant reviling net neutrality as “an attack on the Internet”, as “oppressive government regulation”, as “executive overreach” designed to “strangle innovation”.

If that sounds to you like Orwellian doublespeak, you’re right. That’s how the telecoms and their legislative employees vilify the FCC’s straightforward anti-discrimination rules.

Net neutrality is comparable to fair housing, equal education, employment opportunity, voting rights, and other social norms we take for granted. Government protects these on our behalf. Yes, it’s true: Those safeguards constitute (technically) a form of regulation.

So what? Without government guarantees, we’d still be regulated. We’d just be regulated instead by predatory monopolies for their own power and profit. That’s what you won’t hear from Big Cable’s lobbyists or the lawmakers whose campaign war chests they stuff with legal tender.

Could something come along to save net neutrality? Sure, anything is possible. Right now, though, I don’t see it.

We can sign petitions and perhaps even call our representatives. By all means, let’s do that.

But the problem is, we already held a national referendum on this question. On November 8, we voted to consign net neutrality to history’s dustbin.

Let’s therefore enjoy it while we can. Even if that’s only for the next few days. We’ll have plenty of time, later, to wonder whether the trade we chose was worth it.


Did We Just Trade Away the Internet? — 7 Comments

  1. Where is this pledge you are referring to from Trump? He just said that ISIS needs to be monitored more carefully on the Internet, I’ve never heard him say “we have to shut down the internet.” George Soros who funds the Democrats pushed for legislation to ban “fake” news from the internet, that was a real story that should worry you. Also, if it wasn’t for the internet and “social” media, Trump never would’ve been elected. He uses it to talk directly to the people. You need to cite your sources, I’m just sayin’.

    • Shannon, he’s said much more about the Internet than that ISIS needs to be “monitored more carefully”. Since these statements are publicly available to anyone with a search engine (i.e., to everyone), I didn’t feel it was necessary to cite sources. You can look them up for yourself in a few seconds. More information here: http://wp.me/p3q3lx-Hc

  2. On the subject of net neutrality, I’m not convinced yet either way. I already feel that the internet is quite biased toward advertising and hence the opinions of advertisers. That, more than any other thing so far as I’ve seen, has destroyed the internet experience for me.

    Companies like Netflix already overshadow other media suppliers. I’m not sitting in their server rooms, but they always seem to provide adequate bandwidth on the upstream end – which I suspect is the real differentiator between a good and bad internet experience. If net neutrality is now in place, streaming from Amazon or YouTube or any podcast provider should provide an equally good experience – but they do not. I speculate it is because they are skimping on the upstream end and then blaming Netflix for some conspiratorial shenanigans instead of providing adequate bandwidth on their end of the pipe.

    Another thought is that I quite believe people who make video content could support getting rid of net neutrality. Whether they publicly support it or not. If only legitimate outlets, those that either charge subscriptions or sell advertising and hence can afford to, pay a premium to internet suppliers; perhaps movie pirating would be greatly reduced.

    I can’t say more now because we had a stray dog come into the yard and terrorize our ducks. We’re still missing three of them. Hope you and Cheri have a good weekend.

    • Tim, it isn’t clear to me how an Internet lacking net neutrality will result in fewer ads, or less bias toward advertisers. It seems to me that giving even more power to Big Telecom will inevitably result in more advertising — and, even worse, more intrusive advertising.

      There are useful ways we can all cut down on pervasive Internet ads. At least in our own browsing and net usage. This is an important topic, and I’ll write more about it in the future. Thanks for your feedback!

  3. This is exactly why I chose to go with Credo mobile a long time ago instead of Verizon. I was laughed at because of it. Not so funny now though. I’m hoping that the recount of the votes in PA, WI, and MI, demanded by Jill Stein, might turn it all around. Can’t blame a girl for hoping. Greetings from Oregon.

  4. Honestly, you never had a choice. If Bernie was the Democratic nominee then yes, there would have been a choice but I don’t see how HRC being the president would have made it much different. You credit President Obama with vetoing the bills, but you have forgotten that Obama appointed Tom Wheeler as the FCC chairperson. Wheeler was a lobbyist and investor in the cable and communications industry and as late as 2014 there was controversy that Wheeler was in favor of a two-tier internet. The only reason things are the way they are today is because of the huge public outcry, backlash, protests that broke out after that to prevent net neutrality from going away. A lot (over 100) of tech companies (like Google, Microsoft, eBay) joined in the protests. The credit most certainly does not belong to the President. I followed this whole saga very closely and I found his speech precious and rich with irony, given his prior actions. Don’t want net neutrality to go away? Well then don’t damn appoint an industry insider and lobbyist to the FCC chair!

    Slightly unrelated but relevant nevertheless: as regards comparison of character, Hillary Clinton sponsored a bill that would have made flag burning a crime (felony I think) and flag burners would see jail time and a fine. The bill never got life. This is Hillary Clinton I am talking about. Compare this to the recent comments from Trump about how flag burners should be jailed or punished. If you think Trump doesn’t value free speech (and he probably doesn’t) then so doesn’t Hillary. She only hides her opinion better. Point is, you never had a fair choice. And regardless, she is out of the picture and Trump is the president-elect. So we’ll cross the bridge when we come to it.

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