OPINION: The Necessity of Neutrality

By Adam Barrington

For anyone remotely curious about what the elimination of net neutrality would mean for the United States, look no further than Portugal. All of the expected effects of repealing net neutrality are present, including telecommunications companies steering consumers to particular websites and other blatant displays of corporate favoritism.

The internet in the U.S. could take on a similar form if net neutrality is dismantled. If the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and its corporate backers have their way, companies such as Verizon and Comcast will control speed and stream quality, and will have control over what websites are convenient for consumers to visit. This means that they will no doubt make websites associated with their companies the most easily accessible, hence increasing their profits.

The same tired argument reiterated above is one that has been present the other several times corporations have tried to kill net neutrality in the U.S., and those same corporations have found a powerful friend in Donald Trump.

Ajit Pai
Ajit Pai. Image: FCC

Ajit Pai, the FCC’s chairman, was appointed by Trump, and his face is by now familiar to all advocates and enemies of the open internet. Before being appointed by Trump to his current position, Pai served as Associate General Counsel for Verizon Communications Inc. His feelings regarding net neutrality should come as no surprise. Pai has become something of a villain for advocates of the open internet, and he has been the threatening face of opposition to net neutrality since 2015, when he voted against the FCC’s Open Internet Order.

It is easy for open internet advocates to direct all of their hatred toward Pai, but he is just one soldier in the private sector’s crusade to conquer public institutions and put a price tag on everything not already under the control of corporations. The assault on net neutrality is an assault on the public.

A powerful but seldom heard argument against Pai and his corporate cohorts pertains to the internet’s beginning. The Defense Department can take much of the credit for developing what has become the internet. Taxpayer dollars paid for the internet and much of the popular technology associated with it. The private sector, with its cults revolving around figures such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, has crafted a mythology based on the premise that entrepreneurs and businessmen created the technology now taken for granted by citizens of the U.S. However, the public sector is to thank. The corporate attack on net neutrality is simply another example of the private sector looking to eat up institutions held in common by the public, using meaningless terms such as ‘innovation’ and ‘efficiency’ to justify their onslaught on the commons.

The communications industry, one of the largest lobbying groups in the U.S., puts money in the pockets of both Republicans and Democrats, but the Republican Party tends to be much more loyal and responsive to the demands of corporations.

Nevadans should not be shocked to learn that Sen. Dean Heller (R) and Rep. Mark Amodei (R), opponents of net neutrality, were given heaps of cash for their votes against the open internet. According to figures from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Heller was given $78,950 for his vote, and Amodei $22,000. It should be noted, however, that despite releasing statements in support of net neutrality, Nevada Democrats Rep. Jacky Rosen and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto were given thousands of dollars from companies such as AT&T, Verizon, and Cox. Rep. Dina Titus and Rep. Ruben Kihuen, also Democrats, were given ample amounts of money from telecommunications companies as well.

The lobbyists from the communications industry, like all private sector lobbyists, openly undermine democracy by paying large sums of money to politicians for their devotion.

The public must be prepared to be actively engaged in both local and national politics in order to prevent the corporate takeover of the internet. Representatives will continue to vote in the direction demanded by private sector lobbyists if there is no pressure from the citizenry to do the opposite. Hopefully, the current attack on net neutrality will fail, but it will not cease on its own. The public must crush it.

Adam BarringtonAdam Barrington is a labor organizer from Cleveland, Ohio.  He has worked with organizations such as Community Outreach Group and was an organizer for MoveOn.org’s United Against Hate campaign. During the RNC in Cleveland, Adam helped craft the public education platform for the People’s Justice and Peace Convention. He has a background in adolescent and young adult education and currently resides in Reno.

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