(TFC)— The FCC’s recent assault on net neutrality has sparked an internet firestorm over, even through Thanksgiving. Protests have erupted, petitions circulated, and ideologues on all sides uploading their two cents to that same internet. Even tech companies like Google, Verizon, and others normally not seen as internet freedom activists have taken a stand.
If removing net neutrality really was about enriching a free market, then why are even tech companies getting nervous?
Net neutrality has become a hallmark concept of internet freedom, privacy, and access to alternative information. Without strict regulations, supporters fear giant internet gatekeepers will stifle competing content.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s recent attempt to strip the protections isn’t new, and privacy is already questionable. However, the few regulations left ensure giant internet gatekeepers can’t essentially sabotage the connection speeds of smaller sites. Some content, without neutrality regulations, could disappear altogether. That especially goes for alternative news media producing controversial material.
Literally, hundreds of companies from tech giants like Google to startups have risen together to protect net neutrality. According to Inc.com, over 800 tech startups and investors united in a joint effort to grab FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s attention. The collective under the umbrella of policy advocacy groups wrote a letter responding to the gutting of net neutrality.
They fear the FCC’s changes would allow giant tech companies to divide large chunks of the web, and conquer. Buying up the best connections and browsing capacity, while funneling smaller sites into the dirt. “Without net neutrality”, the group wrote to FCC, “the incumbents who provide access to the internet would be able to pick winners or losers in the market.”
Several other larger companies like Twitter, Netflix, and Google have all individually criticized Pai directly and his FCC actions. Others including Reddit, and the Internet Association, also expressed concerns via social media. Ajit Pai, however, has pushed back against them all, accusing some including Twitter and Facebook of practicing unethical censorship against conservative news. Thus, we enter a facet some may not have previously considered.
Especially since Donald Trump came into the electoral picture, one of the best tools used against independent media has been the notion of “fake news.” Of course, there’s bunk info out there, but at some point, readers seem to have forgotten their personal responsibility to fact-check and properly inform themselves.
In an era where people don’t even want to steer or back up their cars on their own, a new demand for automatically verifiable info in a free the open web crept in. Soon afterward, social media companies were dragged into the debate and categorized alongside idealistic college kids shouting out conservative professors. For some, it’s easier to advocate intrusive policies than it is to simply do their own homework.
Chairman Pai described Twitter especially as “part of the problem”, stating the company “has a viewpoint and uses that viewpoint to discriminate”. Some point to cases where provocative conservative talking heads like Milo Yannopoulos and members of the Alt-Right were either restricted on Twitter or blocked. Pai also blasted big internet companies like Google which he said “cloak their advocacy in the public interest”, Business Journal reports.
While there’s a case to be made against these entities for censorship, that doesn’t distract from the issue of net neutrality. Essentially, Pai’s argument appears to be since some large platforms restrict content, that they don’t actually care about net neutrality. He’s not saying life without net neutrality would be better. Just that if some companies censor content, especially conservative content, then the rules are redundant anyway.
Pai’s reign as FCC chairman has seen him already demonstrate one con of a world without net neutrality. Shortly after Trump took office, the newly elevated FCC member blocked nine internet companies from entering a program providing internet to the poor.
According to Washington Post the program, called Lifeline, would’ve provided quality internet to poor families through a $9.25/month credit system. Customers could use their credit for affordable access, including low-income school districts. Pai’s reason for blocking the company’s, weeks after they’d been greenlit, was that Lifeline “did not enjoy the support of the majority of commissioners at the time, and should not bind us going forward.” There are four commissioners in FCC’s leadership under Pai’s authority, according to FCC’s website. That’s not that many people.
Through all this, one question among many remains. Why does it seem the very companies which would benefit from fewer regulations are pushing back? Well, if you take companies like Netflix, YouTube, you’ll notice something. Each to varying degrees threatens decades-established broadcast systems, like cable. Particularly younger generations are checking out of these networks, and mainstream news media is dying.
Alt-media whether news, or fictional series’ featuring unconventional topics like Orange Is The New Black, or the English teen drug drama Skins, thrive online. An American version of Skins, for example, was quickly banned by a prudent government on television. Every season of its British counterpart, however, can be watched on Netflix.
Net neutrality is a spanning issue with implications most people can’t understand. It touches poor communities accessing the web, alternative media, all of us. Though gatekeepers censor content and save untold troves of data, how much worse could with unchecked floodgates?
Perhaps giant companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and others see a prophetic threat. That one day, with no regulations, compromised officials could facilitate the bidding of black funders to unprecedented degrees. Just as unprecedented, perhaps, as the internet is itself.
American lobbying tends to be problematic, but there are still legal mazes to be navigated. When that labyrinth dissolves, the future becomes a volatile powder keg. Maybe an uncertain future, rather than a concerning present, is what’s rallied internet giants alongside the commonwealth.