The Ruling that Endangers the Internet as we Know It

(By Juan Cole)

A Washington D.C. federal panel has struck down the Federal Communication Commission position on net neutrality, threatening the corporatization of the internet.

The reason readers of Informed Comment can reach it as quickly and conveniently as they can reach a multi-billion dollar corporate web site is the principle of internet neutrality, built into the system by Tim Berners-Lee and other architects of the World Wide Web, which went live in 1991.

Large private corporations that have been allowed to build out the pipes through which internet traffic flows have long wanted to introduce a different system, of net metering. In essence, if a corporation paid the internet provider a million dollars a year, readers could get to that site immediately. But for a site like Informed Comment without those sorts of bucks, service would be deliberately slowed and readers would have to wait a minute or two for the site to load. Studies have showed that most people won’t wait that way. So the entire independent cybersphere would be made invisible and more or less swept away.

A similar thing happened to radio, which was a grassroots medium at the beginning and then was corporatized with government help.

While Tuesday’s ruling is not the final word, since the FCC will have an opportunity to try to reformulate its position, and the ruling can be appealed, I have a bad feeling about this.

I am hoping that Barack Obama knows that he got elected in 2008 in part because of the free internet. I am hoping he knows that Fox Cable News could be the future of information if corrupt billionaires like Rupert Murdoch (whose companies have been implicated in spying on large numbers of peoples’ telephone answering machines) are allowed to buy the internet after they already bought the people’s airwaves. I am hoping that working people and the middle classes know that there are corporations that would buy and sell them if they could (some 2000 large corporations account for half of the US GDP of about $16 trillion annually, or $8 trillion). I hope environmentalists understand that the Koch brothers’ disinformation campaign about climate change, the most serious issue facing humankind, would become a cake walk if they could just pay for the fast-loading sites and refuse to let scientific information appear on them, with science breakthroughs being relegated to pitiful five-minute waits on university youtube channels.

An era could be coming to an end.

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Related video:

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks reports, “Why This Ruling On Net Neutrality Is A Disaster”

10 Responses

  1. I agree. If you control the information highway, you control the traffic. And the corporations in their infinite kindness, wisdom and sense of public service want to volunteer to be the cops. Isn’t that big of them?
    Of course, forget even about having a free exchange of ideas about politics as we have here. It would be a homogenized, white-bread world of Ozzie-and-Harriet Land, which I never really understood as a kid, growing up with a dysfunctional family of immigrants that spoke Croatian around the dinner table where they pounded on the table and argued politics with each other. I wasn’t surprised when Yugoslavia broke apart In the 1990s. Or if you’re too young for that reference, how about that satirical film, Pleasantville? It’s a retro Fifties burg where all the citizens and the landscape is in black and white. It’s America on Prozac and Zoloft. I’d rather just go shopping at the local Target store if I want to go on a nostalgia trip in my old age.
    And these corporations in the media industry, especially those like Murdoch’s Fox News, hate blogs and websites that lean to the left of the political spectrum. They prefer their kind of shows which remind me of that scene in George Orwell’s 1984 where the workers at the propaganda ministry would scream and shout at the screen. Wasn’t that the Hate Minute?
    But it seems like with this ruling against the FCC, this federal panel wants to give the robber barons permission to break in through the back door and take away the modicum of freedom we have on the Internet. Theywill pick up the slack from NSA where it comes to invading our privacy.
    This country has titled so far to the right since I grew up in the Sixties. With each new and improved war of choice that is being sold to the American people, the country just keeps on titling a little more to the right.
    The Internet is a great forum for grass roots politics. And I even love how zany and whacky some of the websites can be. You really don’t need a ton of money like the Koch brothers have. And the way they feel about environmentalists, given their business interests, they are probably ecstatic about the prospects of a coup d’état in cyberspace.
    Deep Throat of Watergate fame knew really politics in this country. Just follow the money.

  2. I would not count on the FCC to represent more than a current administration’s political views. The Reagan era FCC argued that gold=rights, and sold off the remaining radio spectrum to investors, so that we mere humans are stuck with a few odds and ends of bandwidth for all purposes. If the FCC takes a stand for internet rights today, it will be made to approve permanent impairments after the next round of campaign contributions. And the federal judiciary doesn’t need bribes to equate gold with rights: that belief is a condition of appointment. The FCC would have to convince them that the interests of the rich would be impaired if their judgment does not coincide with the interests of the people. But the sycophants of the rich watch the mass media to stay within the party line and protect their careers. They will fearlessly protect our right to be cheated and deceived by their cronies in business.

  3. I wonder what happened to the notion of the “regulated monopoly”? Regulated monopolies deliver your electricity and heating gas. They are not allowed to discriminate against certain customers, why should internet providers?

    This is an idea that should be revived. Internet service companies should be broken up; one part would be the regulated “providers of the wiring” and the other would be the parts that provide content. Allowing those two functions to be combined in one company was bound to cause these types of problems.

  4. Hoping Obama would be in favor of an open internet doesn’t stand up to reason if one looks the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty he’s backing. Undoing net neutrality has the same effect TPP has as a give away in increasing corporate power over nations and their populace, that for some inexplicable reason, at least to date, Obama loves.

    • “Undoing net neutrality has the same effect TPP has as a give away in increasing corporate power over nations and their populace, that for some inexplicable reason, at least to date, Obama loves.”

      There is nothing inexplicable there. Obama was owned by corporate America when he first ran for president. And he still is.

  5. “The medium is the message.” Marshall McLuhan
    You own the medium; you own the message.

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