By Doug Porter
Two years after the Federal Communications Commission reclassified broadband internet providers as “common carriers” under Title II of the Communications Act Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is proposing to reverse that decision.
From Ars Technica:
Pai’s speech was hosted by FreedomWorks, a group that Motherboard describes as being “perhaps best known for helping to launch the conservative Tea Party movement. (And also for producing a video depicting Hillary Clinton having sex with a giant panda. Seriously.)” FreedomWorks called last year’s court decision upholding the FCC’s net neutrality rules “a blow to Internet freedom.”
A press release making this announcement was titled “Restoring Internet freedom for all Americans.” Funny thing though, I simply don’t remember ‘losing’ anything having to do with the internet other than my privacy, which Pai and his freedom loving GOP buddies in Congress are already selling off.
The 2015 FCC reclassification at the heart of this came about after years of wrangling over finding an approach to keeping carriers like AT&T, Verizon, etc, from being able to choose the speed at which they delivered content (or to deliver it at all).
Ideas Live or Die
In a nation plagued by inequality, an open Internet remains a powerful equalizing force allowing good ideas to flourish or die regardless of where they came from.
The principal argument in the past for such ‘net neutrality’ has been made on behalf of the many startup businesses whose creativity drives the expansion of a digital economy.
Advocates have long argued that any other standard would allow major telecommunications companies another advantage to tighten their grip on the market. Entities would have to pay a premium to gain visibility.
An editorial at the Verge lays out just how bad the FCC rollback could be, based on past behavior:
“Title II regulation” simply gives the FCC the authority to make sure those ISPs are behaving — a power the Republican-controlled FCC wants to relinquish to the very companies they’re supposed to monitor.
Chairman Pai said as much earlier this month when he floated the nonsensical idea that broadband providers self-regulate by putting net neutrality provisions in their terms of service agreements.
Here are just some of the things those broadband companies have done in the past 10 years:
Deliberately throttled internet traffic
Lied about throttling internet traffic
Squeezed customers with arbitrary data caps
Misled consumers about the meaning of “unlimited” internet
Gave privileged treatment to vertically integrated companies they own
Strong-armed cities to prevent them from giving their residents high-speed internet
Fought against being held accountable as public utilities, while profiting from public utility regulations
Fought and killed privacy rules that protected customer web browsing data
Held customers hostage to make Netflix pay up
Lied about net neutrality rules hurting network investments
Avoided real competition at all costs
Free Speech for Billionaires, First
While I’ve nothing against startups and commercial services having unfettered abilities to reach consumers, there’s a larger and more ominous possibility, namely that monetizing accessibility offers the ultra-wealthy the opportunity to insure their political messages get prioritized.
One need look no further than Robert Mercer to understand just how close we are to already to a world where money is the medium.
Consider the experience of Guardian writer Carol Cadwalldr on Google shortly after Donald Trump’s February tantrum in front of a press conference where the media were liberally brushed with the term “liars.”
I click Google’s first suggested link. It leads to a website called CNSnews.com and an article: “The Mainstream media are dead.” They’re dead, I learn, because they – we, I – “cannot be trusted”. How had it, an obscure site I’d never heard of, dominated Google’s search algorithm on the topic? In the “About us” tab, I learn CNSnews is owned by the Media Research Center, which a click later I learn is “America’s media watchdog”, an organisation that claims an “unwavering commitment to neutralising leftwing bias in the news, media and popular culture”.
Another couple of clicks and I discover that it receives a large bulk of its funding – more than $10m in the past decade – from a single source, the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer. If you follow US politics you may recognise the name. Robert Mercer is the money behind Donald Trump. But then, I will come to learn, Robert Mercer is the money behind an awful lot of things. He was Trump’s single biggest donor. Mercer started backing Ted Cruz, but when he fell out of the presidential race he threw his money – $13.5m of it – behind the Trump campaign.
It’s money he’s made as a result of his career as a brilliant but reclusive computer scientist. He started his career at IBM, where he made what the Association for Computational Linguistics called “revolutionary” breakthroughs in language processing – a science that went on to be key in developing today’s AI – and later became joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets.
Fake News Or Fake Views
Mercer is also an investor in Cambridge Analytica, whose psychometric model was used by the Trump campaign to plant messages in social media designed to drive behavioral and psychological change in targeted voter groups. The billionaire initially backed Ted Cruz–and some credit his Iowa win for this sort of targeting–, when Trump became the billionaire’s favored candidate the company migrated to his campaign.
Mercer is also the money behind Breitbart, the right wing news organization/swamp that Trump adviser Steve Bannon crawled out of.
The Worth of a Human
I think Bob Mercer has a particular kind of mind that functions at the near-genius level for math and computer science, which explains why his hedge fund is among the most lucrative in the world. But it’s so hyper-rational, and lacking in empathy, it borders on shocking. As David Magerman, a senior employee at his hedge fund, told me, Mercer believes human beings have no intrinsic value beyond what they earn, so in his view, he is worth exponentially more than a school teacher.
Meanwhile, people on welfare, he believes, have “negative” value. In contrast, Mercer has said that cats have intrinsic value because watching them provides pleasure to humans. With the exception of his appreciation for cats, I think this may actually go beyond Ayn Rand…
…What the Mercers did, with the guidance of Steve Bannon, was not just fight the press — they tried to supplant mainstream media. They invested $10 million or so in Breitbart News, building it into a formidable platform for economic nationalism, and they put millions into creating and funding the Government Accountability Institute, which provided their own politically potent content to the mainstream press.
The book Clinton Cash, which was one of their creations, shaped and drove much of the 2016 campaign narrative depicting Hillary Clinton as corrupt. The book was basically bankrolled by the Mercers, and then handed off to the New York Times. The Mercers are far from the first mega-donors to buy media properties. But they were more effective than most, in part because Bannon figured out both how to use social media more effectively at Breitbart, and how to infiltrate the mainstream media with his own investigative reporting factory.
Another Battle to Be Fought
Now imagine for just a moment if Robert Mercer, or the Koch brothers could control access and/or the user experience on the internet with a well-place buy: Access to the Washington Times, the New York Post, Fox News or whatever would be quick and easy. Click on the link for The Nation or Daily Kos and you’ll have time for a bathroom break before it loads.
The next move by the FCC will be May 18, when commissioners are to vote on whether to accept Pai’s proposal, which officially will be called a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. If it’s adopted, the public will be invited to comment.
Here’s a John Oliver video from a few years back explaining why Net Neutrality is important.
Groups Supporting Net Neutrality
(Please feel free to add others in the comments)
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