04.28.14 FCC plans on net neutrality threaten democracy

This past week, the FCC’s decision to utterly destroy so-called “net neutrality” has been in the news. Under the new proposal, the FCC will allow the near-monopoly of internet service providers (ISPs, including such beloved actors as Verizon and Comcast) to set up a multi-speed internet, where those who pay more will get their content delivered quicker than those who don’t. Most of the chatter seems to be about the impact on content providers like Netflix and on consumer prices.

Since the giant ISPs are also in the content-production business, handing them more power to extort will only increase their monopoly power, a serious anti-trust concern. (The lack of competition in this space is why the US consumer already pays more for worse internet access than in almost all other industrialized countries.) It is equally outrageous that this proposal serves to transfer wealth from consumers (whose bills will go up) to corporate elites: another drop in the deepening bucket of policies exacerbating wealth inequality in the United States.

Arguments that favoring Verizon and Comcast is necessary to spur technology innovation are completely specious. In fact, monopolies have no incentive at all to innovate. Their only incentive is maximize their rents (profits) by gouging consumers. They don’t need to provide new or better services to do so. Subscribers to Verizon and Comcast experience the resulting nightmare every single day.

These are are powerful arguments against the FCC proposal and in favor of the better alternative: recategorizing broadband internet as a utility, thereby allowing the industry to be regulated for the public good. What amazes me is that an even more powerful argument is being completely ignored in the debate:  Allowing giant corporations to control content delivery is no less dangerous to civil society and democracy then government censorship. This is doubly so in a flawed democracy, like ours, where corporate elites already own the political process and the Supreme Court is handing them additional power daily.

The Tea Party thinks the federal government is oppressing the citizenry? Hah! Sure, the NSA has obliterated privacy, but corporate dominance of politics has already put meaningful action on climate change and wage equity out of reach (notwithstanding broad popular support), and that’s just scratching the surface. Consider the incident when Verizon prevented the abortion-rights group NARAL from using the mobile services it was paying for to send out text messages to its constituents. This was corporate censorship of political speech it didn’t like, pure and simple. So, how long will it be, Dear Readers, before Verizon and Comcast either throttle your access to this very blog for being hostile to their monopoly interests or give the Koch Brothers and Fox News a speed boost, because they favor that kind of speech.

Make no mistake, an uneven internet is an anti-democratic internet. The FCC’s proposed action takes aim at the very foundation of a democracy that is already teetering on the edge.

©2014 Keith Berner

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