These words are coming to you today thanks to a (relatively) free Internet.
By “free,” of course, it’s not meant “free” like the seductive food samples distributed by Costco’s psychologically destroyed minimum wage workers. One way or another, Internet bills are issued and paid. As expensive as it’s gotten to have telephone service, what with wireline and wireless service each having their needs and presences in most homes and families, the average Internet bill for people who connect both at home and on the go is frequently greater than the voice call portion of everyone’s monthly communication expenses. It’s yet another drain on our earnings that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Not only does our income buy less these days, there are more “essentials” we have to spend it on, like cable TV.
This is about another kind of “free.” This is about a kind of “free” that’s more like a buxom, callipygian free spirit running downhill, naked, overflowing with fetching joy at the bright sunshine of a sweet day and the deliciously titillating website she just viewed on the Internet, because the site was neither blocked, filtered, nor slow-laned by anyone between her and the content creator. Or maybe just because of a dare she got on Facebook. There’s as many reasons for doing things as there are people in the world. The point is, with a free Internet we can share those reasons with whomever we please and look for further inspiration wherever, however we’d like – but not for long if the capitalist industries between content provider and content consumer have their way.
The long-awaited, long-pondered, long-debated new Internet rules have at last emerged from the FCC. As expected, the fighting has just begun, because they’ve made no one very happy. Well, except maybe the telecom corporations, but they’re trying real hard to act as disappointed as everyone else and find things to complain about despite being able to count on raking in an ever greater share of your income regardless of what the FCC decides.
Under the new rules the telecoms can’t block or discriminate against content, unless you’re using a cell phone network. That may not seem like such a big deal to some people. After all, cell phone access to the Internet is an extra way to get there for most. Unless you’re one of those people who don’t have anything except a cell phone to get on the Internet, which is increasingly true for the increasingly larger number who are forced by budgets to choose between having cell phones and having wireline Internet access by using a home computer, and people living in Internet boondocks, for example.
The new rules also allow the telecoms room to create a tiered structure for the Internet where higher usage fees grant usage premiums that common users won’t have access to. That may seem fair enough, except that in a capitalist system the premium services have proven to attract most of the innovation and infrastructure development, leaving those who can’t pay the premium behind. Imagine what effect a system like that might have had if it had been implemented before YouTube. Actually, it may not be necessary to imagine too much for very long, because YouTube has been specifically mentioned as one of the target technologies for which tiering provides the most opportunity.
First Amendment rights have been invoked by some to claim that “how to say it” is as protected as what’s being said. In other words, a tiered Internet protects free speech by inhibiting it. Why not? It’s part of an old American tradition. In Vietnam villages were burned in order to save them, now America can legislate discrimination into the Internet in order to keep it neutral.
Whatever the pros and cons of the new rules are, the argument is far from over. Along with as many threats of court action as there are people paying attention, the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives didn’t hesitate promising to rewrite as many laws as they need to in order to make sure their corporate owners are as stroked, polished, massaged, and feted in all the splendor capitalist innovation can devise. People from every side are already claiming the new rules are perforated like a screendoor with holes you can toss desktop computers through that make them like not having any rules at all – for corporations trying to suck more money out of captive customers, that is. Or for those trying to legitimize censoring criticism, like no government, credit card company, bank, or computer manufacturer would ever do to anyone, especially not to websites like WikiLeaks, that, by the way, are run by perverted rapists, so you shouldn’t pay attention to them, anyway – no matter who they’re calling on their scene and regardless of how many hundreds of thousands of damning, official documents they want to share.
The Internet is a perfect example of a public resource that no corporation or government has any right to stake out. It serves all of us. There aren’t any practical opportunities for creating competing Internets, especially not with competing physical infrastructure. If nothing else, no matter how much they get dressed up to look like trees, we’ve got enough cell towers shoved up our landscape already.
Capitalist interests that want to claim that regulating business interpretation of the Internet and making it more like a public utility only serves to stifle competition and discourage innovation are at best having paranoid hallucinations. More likely, they’re throwing the usual whiney fit at the thought that their profits won’t be as obscene as they’d like, or that they won’t be able to keep their customers and their unborn children as chained up and bled as white as they prefer. The US is currently far, far from providing Americans with the best Internet connectivity in the world, and it sure isn’t because the corporations providing the services have been so battered by regulation that they could hardly summon enough imagination to devise deviously usurious service plans.
AT&T has an army of over 500 lobbyists working the halls of government from champagne breakfast to midnight martini party to further its interests, which are not the same as yours, incidentally. That is, unless you’re one of the politicians AT&T pays for, or are collecting a fat AT&T executive salary. In that case, you should hope that the freedom being denied the Internet is just another expression of the lack of freedom in the minds of your constituents and customers. Because otherwise, the new Internet rules are just hastening the day when the people who realize they have a right to a truly net-neutral Internet rise up and demonstrate what the meaning of freedom really is.