The End of Net Neutrality and Why it is Not Surprising
Lately Net Neutrality in the U.S. may have finally hit a wall as the D.C. Ciruit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s (Federal Communications Commission) ability to enforce anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules on ISPs. The internet rightfully expressed its fear and anxiety that ISPs will now exploit this chance to increase profits by throttling speed of websites that do not pay, or even throttling all bittorrent activity to stop some piracy. However, this outcome should not have been a surprise to any and, indeed, was a shock to few. Despite strong public movements to keep the internet free and open corporate lobbying and fusion with government can leave the population jaded, cynical, and exhausted. This can be seen with the mass movements to end SOPA only to find in transplanted into the secret TPP negotiations, against which there has been relatively little reaction. For Net Neutrality we are placed between a rock and a hardplace in choosing between killing Net Neutrality, thus allowing profit hungry ISPs to moderate access, or allowing a corporate embedded government unfettered regulation powers that could later be used against an open and free Internet.
While losing net neutrality and allowing ISPs to throttle speed at their whim (and profit) is an obviously bad option for the public, some are warning that the third actor in this case, the FCC, must also be viewed meticulously and cautiously. According to this interpretation while the FCC may have lost the ability to enforce net neutrality it has been awarded other powers that will be able to avoid court rulings. As EFF cautioned, while FCC enforcement of Net Neutrality is obviously necessary and good, the governmental powers to carry out such moderation could, in the future, be used enforce censorship, such as done in Great Briton.
Why worry about a “Trojan Horse” from the agency that was also fighting for net neutrality? The answer comes in our present relationship between government, business, and the public. One of government’s role is to moderate the relationship so business cannot take advantage of the public (this can be monopolies, polluting water, or asymmetrically limiting information for profit, as in our case). This role found its peak after the Great Depression when the public realized what is good for John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan is not necessarily good for society. However, this role and relationship began to change around the 1980’s as we shifted to “supply-side” economics, which meant the government’s role would be to support businesses (the supply) rather than consumers (the demand).
We can thank this relationship for the monopolization of the “winners” of last week’s court case–the ISPs and the copyright industries. The reason all blockbusters are from the same six corporations or why so many only have the choice of Comcast or ATT as an ISP is due supply-side economics. In the past these industries would have been hit with anti-trust suits. However, in today’s internationalized economies Washington needs them to be profitable and competitive. With business and policy elites so tied together it is was almost inevitable for such an outcome against Net Neutrality. The relationship is set so losses go to the public and gains go to industry and shareholders, and after all, what is good for the MPAA is good for America.
After three decades of government favoring businesses concerns over the public it is not a shock to many that such a ruling against net neutrality would occur. Nor should it be a shock that increasing the power of FCC should only be done cautiously and under a watchful eye. Stuck between a rock (business) and a hardplace (pro-business government) it was only a matter of time until things went poorly. The majority of (older) Americans ignore the issue of free information all together. They grew up in a time when radio and television were already centralized. It is the younger generations who better understand how advantages free and decentralized information can really be. With money and power arrayed against us we must fight our inherent cynicism and always be shocked and angered by such outcomes regardless of how predictable they may be.
Featured image: CC BY-NC-SA Steve Rhodes