Dec 13

Net Neutrality

Look, I’m convinced nobody reads what I write except my family, and them only sometimes. Even my Therapist (who should be monitoring as I’m clinically diagnosed with anxiety and depression) doesn’t tune in. TMC (when she’s being charitable) tries to convince me we have an awesome twitter audience full of movers and shakers.

Ok. I wouldn’t know. I don’t twit (my only tweet is “I have no thoughts that can be expressed in 140 characters or less.”, it’s not strictly true as attentive readers might recognize- I can be extremely pithy). I don’t monetize my art, I kind of operate under the old patronage system where you scam your family and friends for Chromium Yellow by threatening to cut off your ear (am I worried about my Therapist? I told you, she never reads).

Still, as insulated as I am from reality, I recognize that there are other sites, ones that you and I rely on, that are going to be adversely effected (a result, affected is a pose) by the demise of Net Neutrality.

What is net neutrality? It protects us from corporate power
by Matt Stoller, The Guardian

This Thursday (tomorrow), Ajit Pai, Donald Trump’s choice to chair the Federal Communications Commission, will force a vote to repeal net neutrality protections for broadband providers. This is an important step backwards for our democracy. It will affect what consumers pay for broadband and what we can buy. More importantly, it will affect what we as citizens can say and to whom we can say it.

In the age of Trump, a move to concentrate the power of speech in the hands of telecommunications giants whose financial fate depends on Republican political control is terrifying.

Net neutrality is a rule against censorship and manipulation. It means that if you are a broadband provider, like AT&T, Verizon, or Google Fiber, you cannot discriminate in favor of or against any of your customers. You aren’t allowed to carry the content or data of one website or video provider at one price and the content or data of another website or video provider at a different price. You can’t censor, throttle, or slow the carrying of data for any but technical reasons.

With net neutrality in place, whether you are a newspaper, a blogger discussing sexual assault, a video provider, or someone filming a public official at a town hall, Verizon or AT&T can’t slow or block your ability to put your content online and speak. Without it, they effectively can.

Net neutrality is a type of “common carriage” rule, and it is a bedrock of American democracy. More than a century ago, we had network monopolies like telegraph networks and railroads. Eventually, we regulated them via non-discriminatory principles very similar to net neutrality. In the 20th century, the regulatory framework for trucking, phone networks, airplanes, and electric utilities were also built on the principle of non-discrimination.

When you allow a private operator who controls a network with monopoly-like characteristics to pick winners and losers, they tend to do just that. In the 19th century, Standard Oil colluded with the Pennsylvania Railroad and Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central to acquire control over the oil industry. They did this with a scheme involving kickbacks designed to destroy competitors. Similarly, meatpackers used their power over the rail network to centralize control and power over farmers.

Then, as now, the threat was not just commercial, but political. During the 1876 presidential election, which formally ended Reconstruction, the militantly pro-Republican Western Union telegraph monopoly colluded with the Associated Press to throw a close contest to the Republican candidate, Rutherford Hayes, leading Democrats to begin calling the AP the “Hayessociated Press”.

In response, Americans put in place public rules to neutralize the power of these platforms. In the 1930s, for instance, Congress enacted federal legislation to stop AT&T from abusing its monopoly position in telecommunications. This legislative framework worked beautifully.

By the time the mass internet first emerged in the form of dial-up modems, AT&T could not block the use of its phone network to access it. It could not discriminate against you if you wanted to access, say, AOL or Compuserve. It could not choose to censor the websites you sought to visit or divert you to AT&T-approved content. We paid for the use of the network, not for AT&T to edit the public square.

The Trump FCC and the telecom barons think that once the rule has been changed, we will simply forget about it. But they are wrong. If they eliminate net neutrality, it will end up being the downfall of the telecom barons. Americans will soon conclude that the only possible way to address the damage Pai has wrought is to finally and fully break the power of the giants.

Americans have been here before. The power of Standard Oil once seemed unbreakable. But it wasn’t. Neither are today’s telecom barons.

I suspect that unless we are entirely shut down you’ll not notice a huge difference in site performance here, we’re not exactly bandwidth hogs. Politically I consider our views kinda mainstream even though I’m an Anarcho-Sydicalist and TMC is more radical than that (to hear her tell it), so I think attempts at censorship unlikely unless the atmosphere gets way more repressive than it is and in that case…

Well, I have a passport. I’ve made my whole family get passports and if you think it’s because I’m convinced I live in 1938 Germany…

You’d be exactly right.