Two days before Thanksgiving, the Federal Communications Commission announced [PDF] it will vote December 14 on a new Federal rule that may very easily take away our Freedom of Speech on the Internet.
That's not an exaggeration.
The three Republican presidential appointees on the FCC will pass a federal rule that could result in any content provider with a website or app --- from AirBnb to Zillow to The BRAD BLOG --- being forced to pay your Internet Service Provider big fees for the privilege of bringing their content onto your device or computer. If they don't pay up, their content slows down, and you can't get the content you want unless you wait. And wait. Research shows if you wait just ten seconds, many just give up. It's not so bad for content from well-funded players, but what happens when the guy who blogs about your local school board gets shut out? Chalk another one up for Big Media controlling what information we are allowed to see...
Pretty much everyone --- except for the big service providers --- is against this rule change. Netflix, Facebook, Google, Mozilla, you name it, they're fighting it. (Just do a search for your favorite online site's stance on "net neutrality" and see what it says.) On so-called "Cyber Monday", more than 200 companies like Crayon sent a letter of protest to Trump's FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
But the Internet Service Providers themselves, ATT, Comcast, Verizon all love the proposed rule. (Did I mention that Chairman Pai is a former Verizon lawyer?)...
The FCC's order [PDF] claims that existing Net Neutrality rules are detrimental for ISPs because they may be "deterring them from investing in broadband." Better broadband would mean quicker service, they argue, especially in rural areas, and that would be a good thing. But Public Knowledge Senior VP Harold Feld says there simply is no deterrence. "More than six CEOs of publicly traded broadband companies told investors --- under penalty of SEC prosecution for false or misleading statements --- that the FCC's current Net Neutrality rules did not in any way impact their investment strategies."
So as you've guessed, this is about money.
But it's also about whose political views come to the forefront and whose get stalled.
We've seen this movie before and it's a horror show. Republican promises in the 1990's that consolidated radio would provide more diverse speech resulted in an onslaught of one sided Limbaugh-esque lies. Now they'd have us believe that putting GOP favored corporations in control of what speech We the People can access online will provide a freer society. (Cue the music from "Jaws.")
Next add the FCC's November 16 vote that allows just one company to own the newspaper and multiple TV and radio stations in one town to the agency's upcoming push to permit Sinclair Broadcasting to reach 73% of the nations' airwaves with its so-called "alt-right" philosophy (up from the current cap of 39%,) and you get a pattern of purposeful manipulation of the national discourse. "Orwell rolls in his grave," as filmmaker Jeff Cohen puts it.
Here's the kicker: We can protest all we want, but the 3-2 Republican majority on the Commission will vote to gut Internet freedom anyway. These people are not elected by We the People; they serve at the pleasure of the President and cannot be swayed by constituent pressure.
While Democratic politicians pledge to fight for Net Neutrality, they really need to draft legislation --- laws, not rules passed by political appointees in a ping-pong political process. The first law should remand the FCC to making rules about technology issues, and put public policy in the hands of those who are directly accountable to We the People.
Meanwhile, We the People still need to make our voices heard. The public record does count when groups like Free Press file lawsuits to protect the public interest. (See Media Action Center for links.)
The only elected official who could protect our Freedom of Speech at this juncture is President Donald Trump, whose administration has come out against Net Neutrality.
But he has been known to change his mind.
Sue Wilson is an Emmy and AP award winning broadcast journalist turned media reform activist, director of the media reform documentary Broadcast Blues, and founder of the Media Action Center. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @sueblueswilson.