Last Wednesday, hundreds of major tech firms and Internet advocacy groups staged an online protest of the Federal Communication Commission’s recent proposals, which will allow Internet service providers to charge customers more money for faster online service. These rules run contrary to the concept of a free and open “marketplace of ideas.”
Netflix, Reddit, Kickstarter, Mozilla and Upworthy were among the companies participating in the global protest along with a diverse assortment of public interest groups representing more than 10 million people worldwide. These organizations include the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause, MoveOn, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.
They were protesting the new regulations proposed by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. The rules give broadband providers the power to block or slow down access to certain websites while opening the door for them to charge consumers higher fees for faster, ‘premium’ services. Those who can afford it will have an Internet ‘fast lane’ while the rest of us are forced to take the dirt road. The FCC proposal won’t just affect millions of everyday users, it will have a negative impact on small businesses as well.
Wheeler, a former telecommunications industry lobbyist (surprise, surprise) recently proposed new regulations giving ISPs the go-ahead to split the flow of Internet traffic into a hierarchical, two-tiered system.
On Sept. 10, the protesters displayed a slow-loading, spinning-wheel icon to give users a preview of what the Internet could be like without laws protecting net neutrality. Their purpose was to get Congress to stand up for a free and open Internet and to convince Chairman Wheeler to drop his proposal.
ISPs should continue to provide citizens with open networks; they shouldn’t be permitted to discriminate against content provided by them. The FCC proposals would give ISPs the legal authority to block specific websites and other applications as they see fit. It doesn’t take a major stretch of the imagination to figure out that providers such as Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner want to take all of the worst elements of cable TV and impose them on the Internet.
Media consolidation has had a demonstrably negative effect on the quantity and quality of American media since the 1997 Federal Communications Act rescinded the last vestiges of any federal restrictions meant to limit media ownership. Monopolization has been systematic, overwhelming, and swift.
But here’s the real kicker: Connection speeds in the United States are already pitifully slow. It isn’t just a figment of my imagination. According to Akamai’s quarterly State of the Internet 2014 report, average Internet service speeds have increased steadily around the world. Everywhere except America that is, where we continue to lag behind the global leaders by a huge margin. The United States doesn’t even make the top 10 on the list of countries with the fastest average connection speeds.
South Korea holds a firm grip on the top spot with an average speed of 23.6Mbps (megabits per second); that figure was 9Mbps faster than Japan, clocking in at number two with an average speed of 14.6Mbps. Next up were Hong Kong at 13.3Mbps, Switzerland with 12.7 and the Netherlands with 12.4. Average connection speeds in former Soviet satellites Latvia and the Czech Republic were even rated above the United States: 12th on the list with 10.5Mbps.
Nothing happens in this country unless a tiny minority can make a huge profit out of it. Unfortunately, America’s peculiar brand of suicidal capitalism has caused the country to fall far behind the rest of the industrialized world in virtually every economic category aside from weapons production. We’ve cornered nearly seventy percent of that market. Hopefully, before too long someone will find a way to make a profit repairing the nation’s shattered infrastructure. Otherwise, we’re screwed.
The purpose of net neutrality is to support and protect the free exchange of ideas on the Internet. Powerful interests are working to suppress our constitutional rights. They are desperate to prevent certain kinds of information from ever reaching the public.
In the meantime, the telecom giants continue to reap enormous profits, increasing their political power and influence over the country. Those supposedly staunch supporters of free-market capitalism have managed to severely limit media competition in several states thanks to aggressive congressional lobbying.
The Internet is the only outlet left where alternative voices can still be heard. The debate over net neutrality shows how subtly the one percent is able to control the agenda. It’s only a matter of time before Internet access is restricted in some way: we all know that. That they’re even bothering to pretend the matter is under “debate” is simply a smokescreen to condition us for the inevitable: a future with less freedom and more surveillance. Get used to it.
Jason Darensburg is a columnist for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com.