Opinion

Mission to save net neutrality is crucial

Trump-appointee Ajit Pai’s plans to roll back net neutrality threaten free speech.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Last Tuesday, FCC Commissioner and Trump-appointee Ajit Pai released plans to rollback net neutrality. If enacted, the days of the internet as a free and open forum will come to an end.

Net neutrality defines a set of regulations that prevents Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) such as Verizon, Comcast, and Charter Spectrum from blocking, censoring, or otherwise controlling the content that consumers are exposed to online. ISP’s who also happen to own streaming services cannot, for instance, deliberately slow down Netflix or Amazon Prime. They can’t create internet “fast lanes,” where companies pay to have their own content delivered faster. And they can’t determine which sites consumers are permitted to access.

Without net neutrality in place, your ISP will have complete control over what you see, read, watch and stream online. Rather than paying a monthly fee in exchange for universal access to the internet, you may be forced to choose a specific package of websites, in the same way that cable companies bundle channels. You may find that your favorite sites run intolerably slow or that they’re not offered by your ISP. Whole segments of the web will become inaccessible to most consumers or will otherwise cease to exist.

Already, 90 percent of all media companies are owned by just six corporations. Most of them favor one party over the other, but they have always been unified in pushing the corporate agenda, e.g., imperialism, kleptocracy, racism and inequality. What dominates the airwaves, newsprint, and the book publishing industry is essentially a glorified PR campaign on behalf of corporations and the super-wealthy. These outlets do not engage in real journalism if it in any way threatens the status of their proprietors.

This situation was made possible by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which forced smaller media companies to compete with major conglomerates. Net neutrality has allowed the internet to avoid a similar fate, but if Pai’s plan is approved by the FCC board of directors on Dec. 14, this will no longer be the case.

On display is the true purpose of the absurd and Orwellian “fake news” campaign. What began as an effort to discredit presidential candidate Trump (rather than doing so based on his racist, oligarchic platform) has evolved into a concerted effort to censor the internet.

Because the ability to exchange information unimpeded has become intolerable to our corporate overlords, they have expanded the “fake news” label to include anything that is opposed to American imperialism and the corporate agenda. Executives from Google, Facebook, Twitter and other web giants have already pledged to begin rooting out “propaganda” and “misinformation” and replacing it with more “authoritarian content,” to quote Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Thus far, this effort appears to have been directed mostly towards strongly anti-corporatist, anti-war websites, such as Alternet, Counterpunch, World Socialist Website, DemocracyNow, Truthdig, RT and Sputnik, which have all seen huge drops in traffic due to Google’s new search algorithms.

Our use of the internet to freely expose the lies and criminality of the ruling class is one of the last remaining threats to their hegemony. Russian hysteria and Trump’s incompetence have provided the rationale for bringing the internet to heel; the end of net neutrality will provide the mechanism.

If we let net neutrality die, independent media will die along with it. Any website that espouses anti-imperialism, that challenges corporatism and plutocracy, that writes about poverty, income inequality, the exploitation of labor, institutionalized racism or police brutality, will be pushed to the fringes, subsumed by the corporate media or forced to shut down.

Speak out. www.battleforthenet.com allows citizens to write a personalized letter to congress in favor of net neutrality. Numerous petitions are currently circulating online. You can call your representative, or you can join a real protest, whether at the FCC headquarters in Washington or at your nearest Verizon store, the former employer of Ajit Pai.

The internet is one of the greatest vehicles for free speech ever created. And it is the only medium left to us as Americans where we can make our views heard without filtering them through the lies and obfuscations of the corporate media. Net neutrality must remain in place if we hope to preserve it.

We have until Dec. 14.

Brett is a sophomore majoring in math and physics. Send any and all questions, comments and concerns to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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