Net Neutrality and US Government Hypocrisy on Web Freedom

On May 15, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed rules that would threaten net neutrality.

As stated by Michael Copps at the Common Cause grassroots organisation, “This is an alarming day for anyone who treasures a free and open Internet – which should be all of us”. Many are still unfamiliar with this subject, but they should take the time to learn what it means. Not simply US citizens should be concerned about a threat to net neutrality. US hegemony over the Internet means everyone should be concerned.

According to an analysis from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), rules proposed by the FCC “threaten the future of our Internet” by stifling the potential for creativity, innovation and freedom of expression. They do this by saying it is okay for internet service providers to discriminate in favor of bigger web companies, so they can connect to their users faster. The EFF amply sums this up as “allowing Internet providers to discriminate how we access websites by offering an option for web companies to pay to connect to users at faster speeds.” This has been called creating “fast lanes” for firms able to pay more than the others.

The discrimination permitted under the FCC proposal is recognized to mean there will be less diversity, less creativity and less freedom available to everyone through the Internet. Internet service providers could become “gatekeepers”, thus reducing competition and freedom of expression.

Many believe that the unique character of the Internet as a place of anarchic socialization and equality – the most celebrated aspects of life online – is under threat by the FCC’s proposed rules (If you are one of them, sign here to take a stand). If people do not act quickly to stop it, they will face the dark possibility of the Internet being yet another space occupied by a handful of monolithic companies, like the airwaves or the newspapers before.

What is happening is part of a frightening trend that seriously threatens the usefulness of the Internet as a popular space giving a voice to the voiceless. The Internet should not be hired out to the highest bidders and dominated solely by them, in a mere sham of free speech and competition. The actions of large firms in the direction of curtailing competition, freedom and the popular Internet will take more offensive forms, if they are not stopped.

While the current proposed rules by the FCC are a threat mainly to small businesses, we can already imagine the trend eventually affecting our own lives. Imagine not being able to view the best of anything other than the sites controlled by powerful corporations – the same “stakeholders” that already control the US government and media through lobbying. Not only would this discrimination be tantamount to censorship, it would also appear to be part of a deepening offence against democratization and moral revolutions through technology in the Western world.

As usual, the US government is continuing to accuse vulnerable regimes around the world of not respecting freedom, while it goes to extraordinary lengths to stifle freedom and strengthen a corrupt and autocratic corporate regime to the detriment of society. As usual, the US government continues to claim it supports competition, yet its only interest seems to be in privileging and protecting a handful of corporations, crushing competition, retarding technology and crippling the long-term potential of humanity for the sake of its own greed.

Regardless of its origins or its original design, the Internet has come to be used as a means of disclosing and encountering the truth. It has been a source of alternate media, and it has drastically weakened the influence of the corporate media. It is inevitable that the corporate-lobbied regime in the US will try to launch an onslaught against the foundations of such transparency and freedom. Greed and the desire for illicit monopoly and oligopoly pervade the US establishment and regime, leading them to seek out the total invulnerability of the regime and the handful of monstrously powerful corporations that sponsor it.

If consumers do not take a stand against the creation of “fast lanes”, they can expect to suffer further costs in the near future as powerful companies gain unfair advantages and tighten their grip over the Internet. The FCC rules, if they really come into effect, may be the thin end of a wedge to completely removing individuals and organisations from the Internet because they are unable to conform to the cruel monopolistic regulations of the corporate-dominated regime.

The problem, according to consumer advocates, lies in the attempt to portray the web as a service to be purchased at different qualities depending on how much money you have, rather than a utility that should be equally available to everyone, guaranteed and protected by the government. If the Internet can be classed as a utility to be safeguarded by the government, like electricity and gas, web users can be assured that they are not at a disadvantage to the handful of powerful businesses determined to suffocate freedom and competition.

If we take into account its true liberating and awakening impact on global society, the Internet must be seen not just as a utility but as a human right. As Pope Francis noted, the Internet is truly valuable for society. It offers an unprecedented opportunity for communication and the elimination of global disparity. Such things make it tantamount to a “gift from God”, something that cannot be denied so long as we know it to be a source of liberation for the many.

Harry J. Bentham is the author of the techno-anarchist book Catalyst: A Techno-Liberation Thesis. His background includes writing as a political futurist based in Britain, and membership in the prestigious scientific Lifeboat Foundation think tank. As the author of several science fiction and political science books, his commentary has also gathered increasing attention and praise at the Iranian English-language broadcaster Press TV. Other examples of his work have appeared at over 40 diverse publications. They include his own webzine at ClubOfINFO Circulation, the techno-progressive Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) and the top transhumanist publication h+ Magazine. Read other articles by Harry, or visit Harry's website.