Scoundrel Time

The First Amendment of the Internet: Net Neutrality

There’s good reason why many of us don’t have cable anymore—and it’s not just the cost. We understand that its content is controlled and contorted by massive, profit-driven corporations; they air what sells. The Internet, on the other hand, has been a place where you can find most anything you seek. We don’t have to worry that we’ll be charged extra to access the literary magazines we love, that the writing of the resistance will be censored, or that the independent news outlets we read will no longer be able to afford an effective online presence because of tolls imposed by Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

The principles of net neutrality—which both Democratic and Republican chairs of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have backed and enforced for the past 15 years—create this freedom on the Internet. The regulations prevent ISPs from blocking or throttling (slowing down) any content, and from giving preferential treatment—like faster page-loading times—to companies that pay extra. ISPs cannot discriminate against the apps or products of competitors, or block content put out by groups with whom they disagree. As the Guardian notes, net neutrality means that all data must be treated equally; it is, essentially, “first amendment of the internet.”

But this Thursday, December 14th, the FCC commissioners—with a 3-2 Republican majority—will almost certainly vote to repeal these regulations. When this happens, Business Insider’s Steve Kovach explains, ISPs will be able to “charge internet companies tolls to be able to send their content or services to you.” Just as ISPs charge consumers different prices for different speeds of internet access, now they will have the ability to divide the Internet itself into tracks—a painfully slow one for those sites that can’t pay as much and a lightning fast one for the corporations that can. The information we are able to access with ease will be increasingly controlled by the most wealthy companies. “The repeal of net neutrality will give these giant companies free rein to favor their own sites, services, and content, and discriminate against those of rivals,” Kovach explains. Small businesses and nonprofits who can’t afford to pay for preferential treatment will be drowned out, and forget about independent artist and writers attempting to share their work online. Where this leads is obvious; in Kovach’s words, “If such companies are priced out of the market, more and more of the content available on the internet will come from the telecommunications and internet giants, and you’ll have access to fewer and fewer independent voices.” The even playing field of the Internet will be buried by the steep slope of profit. It’s yet another way in which this administration is catering to those who already have the most resources and, well, flipping off everyone else.

Free Press explains that, in keeping with most everything this administration does, this move “would be particularly devastating for marginalized communities media outlets have misrepresented or failed to serve.” After all, “people of color, the LGBTQ community, indigenous peoples and religious minorities in the United States rely on the open internet to organize, access economic and educational opportunities, and fight back against systemic discrimination.” The Internet must remain free and open in order for essential stories to be told, in order for activists to organize, in order for small businesses and freelancers to compete against larger corporations, in order for the very innovation FCC Chairman Ajit Pai claims to be championing.

In summary, the repeal of net neutrality regulations will:

  • Make the Internet like cable television–what we see will be what garners the greatest profits for ISPs
  • Allow ISPs to charge tolls to any company or individual that wishes to promote content or services via the Internet
  • Allow ISPs to divide the Internet into tracks in which sites and products put out by wealthy corporations will receive preferential treatment
  • Allow ISPs to block content or services from competitors as well as content with which they disagree
  • Make it harder for small businesses to get off the ground
  • Make it harder for artists and writers to promote their work
  • Make it harder for literary magazines and other not-for-profit organizations to disseminate information and literature
  • Make it harder for independent and not-for-profit news organizations to get their stories into the world
  • Disproportionately hurt members of already-marginalized communities, including people of color, the LGBTQ community, indigenous peoples, and religious minorities

Here’s what we can, and must, do to protect our rights:

Actions

1. Use this link to write to Congress

As Battle for the Net explains, “Comcast, Verizon and AT&T want to end net neutrality so they can control what we see & do online. They want to gut FCC rules, and then pass bad legislation that allows extra fees, throttling & censorship. But Congress can put a stop to all of this.”

2. Call your Congress members

  • Call: All three members of Congress (look up)
  • Script for red reps: As a constituent of yours in [ZIP CODE], I am asking you to use your power as a member of Congress to publicly stand against and politically block the FCC’s plan to repeal net neutrality laws. As twenty of the Internet’s creators and operators explained in an open letter on Monday, December 11th, “the proposed Order [WC Docket No. 17-108] removes long-standing FCC oversight over Internet access providers without an adequate replacement to protect consumers, free markets and online innovation” and “is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology.” Net neutrality should not be a partisan issue—without these important protections, the small businesses Republicans claim to support will suffer immensely, as will artists, writers, nonprofit organizations, and start-ups. What will you do to make sure that net neutrality regulations—the first amendment of the Internet—stay in place?
  • Script for blue reps: As a constituent of yours in [ZIP CODE], I am asking you to use your power as a member of Congress to publicly stand against and politically block the FCC’s plan to repeal net neutrality laws. As twenty of the Internet’s creators and operators explained in an open letter on Monday, December 11th, “the proposed Order [WC Docket No. 17-108] removes long-standing FCC oversight over Internet access providers without an adequate replacement to protect consumers, free markets and online innovation” and “is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology.” Without net neutrality laws, small businesses, artists, writers, nonprofit organizations, and start-ups will suffer. What will you do to make sure that net neutrality regulations—the first amendment of the Internet—stay in place?

3. Break the Internet TODAY, Tuesday, December 12th

Battle for the Net has a wonderful list of suggestions of actions you can take to join this online protest designed to spread the word about the importance of net neutrality before Thursday’s vote. The goal is to create “an avalanche of calls to Congress” so that they will use their power to stop the repeal.