Net neutrality protects the true democratic potential of the internet: that anyone, regardless of wealth or social status, may produce new thought, knowledge, forms of expression, goods, and services, and contribute to the creation of new communities. While it’s true that the internet is by no means perfect, eliminating net neutrality would remove a critical safeguard against the suppression of this potential. The current FCC proposal, titled “Restoring Internet Freedom,” is a step backwards; what it restores is mega-corporations’ ability to constrict, steer, and siphon the democratic potential of the internet. The proposal should be rejected.
The proposal introduced by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai would make three critical changes to the existing rules governing the internet: (1) it would reclassify internet service providers (ISPs) as an “information service” instead of the current Title II classification of “telecommunication service”; (2) as a result of this reclassification, the ban on paid prioritization would be lifted, meaning that ISPs would be free to charge higher fees for so-called “fast lanes” and, in effect, divide the internet into a two-tiered economic system that would also favor their own content, effectively ending net neutrality as it exists today; (3) the final major outcome of this reclassification would be less regulation under the guise of a weak transparency rule.
The most egregious aspect of this rule change is the allowance of paid prioritization, a move that favors large corporate “edge providers” who can afford to pay the toll of fast-lane access and discriminates against those who lack the resources to compete at their level. Small-scale startups, young entrepreneurs, nonprofit organizations, and independent artists will suffer. They will either pay more to ISPs and edge providers or make do with slow network speeds which will affect their ability to create and share work via the internet. Even if they can afford the first option, there’s still no guarantee their audiences will be able to easily access the content they create.
The FCC proposal must also be understood in a larger contemporary context. The policy change justifies itself on the fraudulent concept of trickle-down economics which has time and time again proved to be an illusion. “Restoring Internet Freedom” instead contributes to the project of widening the wealth and income gaps through privatization and deregulation as pursued today by the Trump administration, Congressional Republicans, and right-wing lobbyists, think tanks, and corporate donors. Since economic inequality overlaps considerably with racial and gender inequality, the FCC’s proposal will quite literally be discriminatory, further subduing those voices in the United States which already are heard the least.
These effects, economic and cultural, divert the unrealized democratic potential of the internet away from the significantly new and into the narrow confines of corporate innovation. As FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has written in her dissent against the proposal, “innovation” is code for a more efficient way for corporations to maximize profit. I believe the significantly new is best explained by the philosopher Alain Badiou’s concept of the “event”: the emergence of an entire sphere of possibilities once thought impossible that can change the entire historical situation. The fate of the internet as an event—as a common good for the betterment of society—is undecided, but the FCC’s brand of so-called innovation would in fact choke the potential that ordinary people can design, sustain, and communicate new thoughts, new works, and new ways of living via the internet. Instead, the FCC and its corporate allies would ensure the entrenchment and amplification of the worst social conditions today.
We cannot afford to give up this last mile of democratic potential.
NOTE: This statement has been filed as a public comment with the FCC. If you would like to voice your opinion on net neutrality before the FCC’s vote on Thursday, December 14, 2017, go to: gofccyourself.com. Click on “express.” Be sure to hit “ENTER” on your keyboard after you put in your name.