EDITORIAL: Net neutrality a First Amendment issue

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Ajit Pai
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski swearing in Ajit Pai as the new FCC commissioner in May 2012.

We can pick our poisons with the Trump administration: the State Department disaster, the fantastical math of the GOP tax plan, the sealed indictments in the Russia investigation… but if we don’t keep our eyes on net neutrality, the internet — the United States’ most significant contribution to the world since we invented jazz — could be forever changed.

FCC chair Ajit Pai has indicated the country’s position on net neutrality will change, probably during the holiday news dump, when no one will be paying attention.

This is not a change in the law; the fate of the American internet will be decided by a vote of the five-member Federal Communications Commission on Dec. 14.

On its face, the notion that all content on the internet be treated equally — the premise of net neutrality — seems a most American position. We don’t prioritize content in this country when it comes to the First Amendment. And a repeal of net neutrality would feed the worst impulses of service providers, who would be able to implement new fees on both the consumer and content-creator sides of their business model.

We can take examples of this abhorrence in countries that don’t benefit from net neutrality. In Portugal, ISPs charge extra monthly fees to use social media, email, streaming services and even text messages. Before Canada made a strong commitment to net neutrality this year, ISPs were accused of throttling bandwidth for some competing services and, in one case, censoring a website that criticized the company.

A case can be made that net neutrality might not disturb the digital status quo in the US — the bigger players like Google and Facebook have already created scaled-down internets of their own, content delivery networks that, in a manner of speaking, already bypass most internet traffic. And in most consumers’ minds, ISPs are going to suck no matter what.

But erosion of these Obama-era rules makes two significant declarations. For one, to delineate the very internet upon which so many families, businesses and institutions depend as anything other than a utility is disingenuous. In 2017, a high-speed internet connection is as essential to life as electricity, too important to trust to the whims of a corporation intent on increasing its share price.

For another, it opens the door for moneyed interests to drown out smaller players on the digital landscape — Triad City Beat included.

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  • Timothy G. Beeman II

    When I was in college (not that long ago, considering my age) I wrote several papers about the horrible idea that is the FCC. I called them the Fascist Controlling Communists and I never backed down on that with several professors trying to get me to. I see no benefit to them at all. At least not in their current state. They are the bane of free speech, free thought and free will. There has to be a better way to oversee the communications-sphere while not meddling with it.