“I dissent. I dissent from this fiercely-spun, legally-lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate-enabling Destroying Internet Freedom Order.
I dissent, because I am among the millions who is outraged. Outraged, because the FCC pulls its own teeth, abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers. Why are we witnessing such an unprecedented groundswell of public support, for keeping the 2015 net neutrality protections in place? Because the public can plainly see, that a soon-to-be-toothless FCC, is handing the keys to the Internet – the Internet, one of the most remarkable, empowering, enabling inventions of our lifetime – over to a handful of multi-billion dollar corporations. And if past is prologue, those very same broadband internet service providers, that the majority says you should trust to do right by you, will put profits and shareholder returns above, what is best for you”.
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn
As 2017 comes to a close and the final days of the year slowly march ever forward, it goes without saying that 2017 will likely go down in history as one of the country’s most embarrassing and regressive years in both terms of policy and overall moral failing in memorable modern history. Since January 20th, it seems that on a near-weekly basis that the federal government has with a cold, deliberate and calculated impulsiveness maliciously waged an all-out assault on even the most basic human and civil rights that we cherish in this country. Whether it be Donald Trump’s attempt to ban transgender troops from serving in the armed forces, his repeated attempts to implement a ban blocking Muslims and other foreign nationals of various origins from entering the U.S., the continued instance on the construction of a ridiculous billion-plus dollar southern border wall, or even going to bat in a thinly disguised defense of white supremacist and neo-nazis following the Charlottesville domestic terrorist attack; just to pick a few of the big ones from this years highlight reel. Needless to say, 2017 has ultimately, but not surprisingly turned out to be one bumbled, mismanaged, and horrendously painful disaster of a year. Jam-packed with so many low lows that it makes 2016 look like a trip to Disneyland by comparison. In short, the past eleven months have not been particularly great for the U.S.; a country which wasn’t exactly a beacon of excellence by any stretch of the imagination prior to the beginning of the year either. We’ve witnessed white supremacist neo-nazis march brazenly down U.S. streets and murder innocent people, members from Donald Trump’s campaign team and cabinet are currently either under investigation or have been indicted on crimes related to the F.B.I.’s probe into Russian collusion during the 2016 election, Trump himself has, as of now been accused of sexual harassment from nineteen different women; and again this only barely begins to scratch the surface of all the terrible, rotten, vile events that has transpired in just the past eleven months due to this administration. However, no awful year would be complete without a big lump coal to close out the holiday season; and the U.S. citizenry received that steaming pile of fecal matter in the form of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) voting along party lines in a 3-2 decision to repeal the 2015 net neutrality rules set under the Obama administration regulating internet service providers; largely led by Ajit Pai a former lawyer for Verizon who was appointed by Trump as head of the FCC earlier this year.
If you are unfamiliar with last week’s events, or what net neutrality even is, what you are told can vary and depend on who you ask. In layman’s terms, the FCC’s decision effectively scrapped net neutrality regulations that have prohibited internet service providers (ISPs) from throttling web access, blocking websites, charging for higher-quality service or even for certain content such as social media platforms. Essentially the rules previously set in place prevent ISPs from discriminating against web content or making websites (or subscribers) pay for faster delivery speeds. At its heart net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers cannot engage in any activity that can adversely limit or manipulate the choices that we, as internet users, are able to make online as well as ensuring that larger companies do not undermine newer, smaller ones that are just starting out. Net neutrality is what ensures that everybody has equal access to the internet. It’s what ensures that whether you’re a student at Harvard or the local community college, whether you run your own personal blog or the New York Times, whether you live in Beverly Hills, California or Flint, Michigan, everyone has equal service and access to the net. Essentially it means one internet for everybody, not multiple ones were the best service, highest quality and possibly even content is reserved for those who can afford it.
However, with the repeal of these net neutrality protections, the federal government will no longer regulate ISPs and high-speed internet delivery as if it were a utility, like for example the phone service; which sets the stage for ISPs to potentially take part in all the greedy, money-grubbing activities aforementioned prior which will undoubtedly fundamentally and irrevocably change the very fabric and fundamental nature of the internet as we currently know it forever. When one gets down to it, communication companies want to monetize the net like they already do for cable currently, where people are forced to pay for various packages and at premium services depending on their budget. A move almost absolutely no one but communication companies wants to see become a reality. In fact, according to a survey conducted by The Hill, 83% of the public questioned in a survey about net neutrality, responded that they supported current net neutrality protections and did not want them repealed; a figure that included 75% of Republicans, 89% of Democrats and 86% of independents. And quite frankly, that’s a number that should astound everybody. In today’s extremist, hyper-partisan driven political landscape, it’s literally a miracle that across political lines the public can unequivocally come together and resoundingly condemn anything with such uniformity and ferocity. Not even the Pope himself has an approval rating higher than 70%; yet at the end of the day, an overwhelming majority of people across all spectrums of political affiliations, class, racial and ethnic lines can come to the resounding agreement, that they not only support current protections in place but can come to the agreement that repealing net neutrality would be a very, very bad idea. Unfortunately, however, it appears these sentiments have fallen on deaf ears at the FCC who are seemingly dead set on doing everything they can to shift all power over into the hands of communication corporations.
While these recent developments should be unsettling for anyone who cherishes and values a free and open internet, the move comes as especially unnerving for those within activism and organizing circles; particularly communities of color and those that advocate and fight alongside them in this country. It goes without saying that the internet truly is the great equalizer when it comes to accessing and distributing information in the 21st century. It has not only leveled the playing field but given a voice to people and communities that up until very recently were continually marginalized and denied a voice in this country. Frankly, the internet has allowed disenfranchised communities to mobilize in ways and on unprecedented scales of which the likes of this nation had not previously seen. A year ago in my article “Don’t Believe the Hype: ‘Fake News’ in post-fact U.S. Media” I said, “The internet and social media are perhaps one the greatest technological achievements in the history of mankind and are immensely valuable tools that have not only democratized the sharing of information, but have been instrumental in giving a voice to the voiceless, historically disenfranchised communities in this country and in many instances gave a platform to cases and stories that normally in the past would have been either ignored by mainstream news media and fell through cracks”. I stand behind that statement just as much today as I did almost a year ago. Because, it is an undisputed fact that countless contingents made up of a coalition of different people from various races, backgrounds, classes, and different walks of life imaginable have been able to come together and build communities that simply would not have been possible prior to the dawn of the internet. From Occupy Wall Street, to the Black Lives Matter Movement, to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests to the fight for DACA recipients; all of these movements along with dozens of others were made possible because of organizing and activism that was facilitated largely using the net to spread the message and bring awareness to the issues at hand that prior were largely being downplayed or outright ignored by legacy media.
Truly the power of the net’s reach and ability to quickly inform a well connected and technologically savvy populace cannot be understated, and organizers on the ground are well aware of this fact and the newfound power it has returned back to communities as well. Following the FCC’s decision last week, the ACLU tweeted from its official account, “Particularly damning as what today’s repeal would mean for marginalized groups like communities of color that rely on platforms like the internet to communicate” and “Remember, that the world first heard about Ferguson, Missouri because those legacy (traditional news) outlets did not consider them worthy enough for coverage until that hashtag started trending” and that is undeniably true. From the murder of Trayvon Martin, to Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland and quite frankly simply far too many for me to possibly all list here are all examples of that. Every single one of these cases that revolved around police brutality and vigilante violence gained traction and rose to national prominence because of online organizing and the efforts of millions of people sharing video, photos, tweets and other information through websites and various social media platforms far beyond the neighborhoods and cities in which the events were actually physically taking place. Prior to August 2014, very little people outside of St. Louis had known or even heard of Ferguson, Missouri. But, because of the power of the internet and social media, the entire world was made aware to the plight of the Ferguson community as the people exposed the brutality, rampant corruption and vile wickedness of the Ferguson PD. Had it not been for the net and social media the country might never had been made aware that a no-fly zone was designated over Ferguson, or that several reporters were arrested by militarized police for not moving fast enough while reporting, or that the Ferguson PD was arresting and tear-gassing protesters who did not continuously move while protesting (an ordinance that was later deemed unconstitutional). None of this coverage which was disseminate throughout the web would have been possible had it not been for the vigilant, tireless efforts from mostly individual activists, citizen journalists and everyday regular eyewitnesses who documented and broadcasted the events they witnessed out to the rest of the world in real-time from their cell phones using websites and platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even Vine. And, even then, law enforcement and local officials in St. Louis did whatever they could to prevent the story from spreading outside of the city and surrounding regions. In the years since we have seen this same phenomenon replicated as well from the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, to the remote and desolate hills of Standing Rock, South Dakota to the bustling five boroughs of New York, New York; there is literally not a single corner of this country that hasn’t been touched and made aware of these injustices and subsequent social movements. Whether it be from hearing about it online or even taking place within people’s own cities. For all intensive purposes, this is quite literally a movement birthed from the net and social media; and if it wasn’t for that the status quo would ensure that we never knew the names of Eric Garner, Mike Brown or Freddie Gray, nor would we have heard of, let alone seen the disturbing images, streamed live out of Ferguson, Baltimore or Standing Rock. However, with the prospect of the future of net neutrality now in question, it’s reasonably alarming to believe that with practically all of the power being diverted into the hands of a few private communication companies, that the potential danger of future unrest and coverage of emerging social movements being squelched or shut down altogether especially if said movements are in direct opposition to a corporation’s own interests.
If there is anything to be taken away in this dissertation, it is important and can’t possibly be emphasized enough that net neutrality is so much more than just simply getting charged for social media and other online utilities from ISPs. It’s about FCC and internet providers restricting access to information and controlling exactly what we can and can’t see, as well as what we can and can’t do. Essentially, restricting our freedom on the net entirely. This battle isn’t only over net neutrality, this is about the erosion of democracy and the flow of free ideas on the net. Not only is it a direct violation of the will of the public majority, but it also erodes an already dwindling faith in our government as an institution and invites doubt as to whether it is even a foundation worth engaging in or even defending. The government and the communication monopolies of this country know damn well what they are doing by destroying net neutrality. It’s naive to think for one second aside from corporate greed that the net’s ability to bring worldwide attention to the plight of the poorest, most vulnerable and disenfranchised communities in this country isn’t a huge reason why the powers that be want to all but castrate the current online format that up until now had been set in place. Social media and the broader net, in general, is the canary in the coal mine and is the litmus test for the health of critical speech and dissent in this country. We cannot risk trusting our cherished freedoms in a government, which time and time again has sold us out in favor of shallow corporate interests. The FCC is not functioning as agency protecting the rights and greater good of the people, if anything, they are acting as a small group of self-serving elitist operating as corporate yes men at the whim of communication companies to do their own bidding. Their political will and moral standing operate at the behest of the lackeys lining their pockets with the ill-gotten dollars of corporate bribery; working tirelessly to strip any protections from what is hands down the most important, revolutionary technological advancement of the modern era. The U.S. government loves to point fingers at countries who shut off the internet or who have gone to every length both benign and extreme to limit it; yet every couple of years tries to do exactly just that by making internet too expensive or inconvenient for the masses to equally access. As open corruption becomes more bold and brazen in this country, it is not beyond the realm of reason that censorship in the near future comes not from the government itself; but in the form of legalized tyranny codified into law by the corporations of this country which for all intensive purposes have not only bought and paid every elected leader, but the courts and government itself as well. The destruction of net neutrality would simply be among one of the final nails in the coffin to silencing independent critical thought and dissent on a large scale in this country. And here is where we must be exceedingly careful and vigilant because the U.S. government is the master of hiding behind semantics; a frighteningly adept wolf, disguised in sheep’s clothing. The politicians, judges and other appointed leaders of this country will continue to say they are different and that is irresponsible to compare their actions to those carried out in nations such as Iran, Turkey, Russia, China, Egypt, etc.. They will continue to parrot the lie that they are different. They are not, the only difference between them and the latter is simply presentation and conduct. Because, here in the United States instead of calling what we are currently witnessing as bribery, we call it lobbying. Instead of calling what we are seeing tyranny, we call it executive action. Instead of calling these gross monopolies which continually rig our nation’s courts for what they are, we call them ‘free markets’. We can no longer fall victim this to this farce any longer, for if we do we stand to lose for much than we will ever stand to gain. We cannot once more fall for the tired lie that the so-called ‘free market’ of this country will correct itself. The so-called ‘free market’ has given us the current disasters which are a failing educational and abysmal healthcare system that we are now stuck within this country. In the words of activists and musical artist Immortal Technique, “the free market has never been free because the market does not regulate itself. It is manipulated like a puppet, and it survives because of its image”. Well, it is time we yanked that image off the pedestal from which the corporate elite has hoisted and held it so high and for so long and called it what it is: a lie. A big, grand ugly lie. The prospective future our country potentially faces is in all seriousness of the phrase a dictator’s wet dream come to life. A dystopian nightmare who’s potential to bring about untold damage and repercussions which knows no bounds. Our country teeters dangerously on the edge of no return, and unless we are able to force our elected officials to abide by the will of the citizenry, not the pocketbooks of the corporate elite we risk plunging into an abyss from which we may never return. Now if there is even the slightest, faintest glimmer of hope; it’s that the FCC’s move will very likely be fiercely challenged in court or could even be blocked outright by congress even before that. Attorney generals from Washington, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Oregon, Vermont, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia are among a growing list of states that have thus far announced official plans to challenge the FCC’s net neutrality repeal in court, a list that is bound to surely grow as more states and even private companies and non-profit organizations join in the fight to save net neutrality. That being said, it’s extremely naive and shortsighted to put all of one’s stock in a judicial system which has been known in the past to throw legal curveballs in the face of the public and perhaps even more so put faith in a GOP dominated Congress that casually and shamelessly passed one of the most harmful and self-enriching tax bills in recent memory to take the moral high ground and look out for the greater good of the public. This is why we cannot afford to be complacent and put our future solely in the hands of others who and time and time again have shown to have vested interests in our collective well being. The entire spirit and fundamental purpose of the net are built upon equality and equal access to information and we have come too far, worked too hard and sacrificed far too much to simply walk away and abandon everything we have fought tooth nail to get now. A year ago I said, “We may have to fight harder, harder than any us thought we could push ourselves”. Well right now our moment has come, and it is up to us accept the challenge and stop up and rise to the occasion.