The FCC Killed Net Neutrality, and No, It Won’t Be All Right

Yesterday, the FCC voted 3-2 to strike down Obama-era regulations which classified ISPs as public utilities. By doing so, companies will have the opportunity to privilege certain information over others. Readers will know I’ve been vocal and passionate about this issue in the past. I’ll try to keep my cool.

This is Dumb as Hell

Skirting past my promise to keep my cool, I’ll admit, I’m livid right now. Not only has the FCC chosen to side with large companies over the very people it is meant to protect – I’ll get to that in a minute – but the way in which it handled information surrounding the vote has been either i) laughably incompetent or ii) intentionally malicious. I can’t decide which is worse.

Between potentially withholding evidence and abbedding fraud, demonstrating an unwillingness to find a better way to understand public sentiment, turning a blind eye to the obvious and overwhelming outcry against repealing, and just the sheer unprofessionalism of Ajit Pai (his comments about being a Verizon shill, videos of him dancing with other net neutrality opponents, etc.), the way that the FCC has dealt with this issue has largely been a mockery of everything that is truly American.

Sorry kid, you’ve already lost your digital rights

You may hear some people tell you that the market will figure this out and smooth it over. That ISPs which behave poorly will be punished by customers who switch to other ISPs, and even that new companies may enter the space because of this. I wish I could believe that. I’m a huge believer in market-based solutions; truly I am. The unfortunate aspect of this logic is that it presumes decades of lobbying has not led to unfair legislation that favors existing, huge ISPs. Continued mergers make fewer choices for consumers. There are already places in the US that are served by only one ISP. The market only works when there is competition. Thinking that the market can live up to protecting consumers in the current economic and political landscape just isn’t realistic.

Access to information was your right

Unimpeded access to information is what made the internet beautiful. Anyone could read anything that anyone else posted without too much worry about that content being passively censored. Within this fast, glorious repository of collaborative information, voices found each other and together became capable of things both big and small. Communities were formed, protests were organized, billions were made, cryptocurrencies were born, and the internet even named a boat “Boaty McBoatface.” All of these things are the internet. It is both serious and trivial, work and play. The FCC took that away, and now ISPs will be able to define the internet by displaying (or making fast enough to consume) what they choose or are paid to show.

Pardon my alarmist yelling, but hindering access to information in any form should raise red flags. Information and the internet are the inherent rights of citizens. Infringing on them in any way is a dramatic departure from the values of these United States. There may be action items yet – for instance, Congress might be able to pull the emergency brake – but call me discouraged; I just don’t see it happening right now.