By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features
Well, it happened. Despite overwhelming opposition, Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai, the former Verizon thug, overturned Net Neutrality rules. The proof of how evil this is: the next day, moments before Pai was to speak at the Neo-Nazi CPAC convention, the NRA honored him with the “Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award” for repealing the net neutrality rules.
They weren’t allowed to bring Pai’s “prize” on stage – a handmade rifle (how ironic) – but it was forthcoming.
Pai, a former Verizon lawyer who joked in December about being “Verizon’s puppet” argued that the net neutrality rules were too “heavy handed.” But net neutrality proponents – including consumer advocacy groups and tech companies – counter that the rules are necessary to prevent monopolistic broadband providers from engaging in censorship and from harming competitors.
February 27 was Operation: #OneMoreVote day of action to save net neutrality. “There needs to be a massive outcry from Americans across the country to stop Ajit Pai and the FCC from handing over control of the internet to companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T,” writes Katie O’Connell, Digital Communications Coordinator for People for the American Way (pfaw.org)
“Despite enormous public opposition, the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality has officially been entered into the Federal Register. Now the Senate must act in the next 60 days to stop the repeal and save the internet or big cable companies will have the control over the internet they’ve always wanted.”
Overturning Net Neutrality rules mean that Big Cable companies can censor content, slow or throttle sites, inhibit newcomers from ever taking hold, and shake down viewers for more and higher fees. It means it will be harder for the next innovator, the next Facebook or Reddit or Twitter or Netflix to get a foothold.
For instance, Comcast owns NBC Universal and, before, was not allowed to throttle Netflix streaming speeds to make it less desirable for viewers compared to its own NBC Universal content.
You would think this means that Google can accede to massive pressure to shut down NRATV, but that is doubtful. The NRA isn’t worried because they know that in the new paradigm, money talks, just as Citizens United turned political campaigns into a Fantasy League sport of billionaires.
Proof of how politicized and self-serving Pai is: he is under investigation by the FCC Inspector General for greasing the wheels for the Sinclair media company to acquire Tribune Media – which would create the largest TV broadcast company in the nation’ and result in unacceptable levels of media concentration – access to 70% of households, when 39% is the limit. This is a media company even more overtly political and conservative than (if you can believe it), News Corp/Fox. In 2016, Jared Kushner bragged that the campaign had struck a deal with Sinclair to provide access to his father-in-law, Donald Trump, in exchange for broadcasting pro-Trump segments without commentary, writes Murshed Zaheed, Political Director of CREDO Action from Working Assets.
Meanwhile, the Trump Administration set its Department of Justice to coerce Time Warner to shed CNN (vilified by Trump as a “fake news” monger) in order to allow the merger with AT&T to go forward.
A coalition of 23 state attorneys general are challenging the repeal of net neutrality rules in court, as are Mozilla, Vimeo and consumer advocacy groups. Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) said last week after Pai issued the new rules that he is pressing forward with a resolution to scrap the FCC’s recent move. So far, that effort has garnered the support of 50 senators. Just one more vote in the Senate could overturn the repeal.
Under provision of the Congressional Review Act, a simple majority of Congress in both the House and the Senate can overturn the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality if they act within 60 legislative days (which takes 4-6 months)—and the pro-Big Cable leadership can’t stop them.
Senator Chuck Schumer has announced that he’ll force a vote on reinstating net neutrality protections. A number of Republicans have at least claimed to support net neutrality in the past. On the other hand, there are so many deadlines and issues that have come to the fore – gun control, the federal budget – it will be easy for the Trump Administration to bury it.
A survey conducted by the University of Maryland late last year revealed that 83% of Americans — including 75% of Republicans — disapproved of the planned repeal. Last year, millions urged the FCC to keep net neutrality rules in place.(Though, ironically, despite evidence of millions of Russian bots, some using stolen identities, inserting comments, Pai refused to delay the vote, as New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and others urged.)
A free and open internet provides an important platform and access for small companies and communities of color. “The open internet allows people of color and other vulnerable communities to bypass traditional media gatekeepers. Without Net Neutrality, ISPs could block speech and prevent dissident voices from speaking freely online. Without Net Neutrality, people of color would lose a vital platform,” writes Free Press Action Fund. “Small businesses depend on fair and free communications to get the word out about their services and products, too. Imagine if a company could sell premium space to the highest bidder? How would we ever find that great mom-owned business, or start-up service in our town? We wouldn’t.”
The Trump Administration, which from public education to health care to Social Security, energy, environmental, trade and foreign policy has demonstrated that money talks, has nothing but contempt for free and fair flow of media. The federal budget proposes to slash funding altogether for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS and NPR), yet has done little to force Facebook and Twitter to adhere to the same disclosure rules as every television and radio station, newspaper and magazine must adhere to, to prevent Russian agents from undertaking propaganda and disinformation campaigns intended to suppress voting and sow conflict and discontent.
But here’s the thing: news was supposed to be freely accessed in order to have an “educated” citizenry capable of casting ballots. Instead, free broadcast was replaced by the need to subscribe to some sort of cable or satellite provider; an internet provider; a cell telephone provider. I don’t know about you but I’m spending well over $200/month just on “telecommunications”.
Media providers become the conduit to culture, and culture is values. News Corp, Disney, Comcast, Universal – which dominate media – can decide which programs convey the social message they want and price accordingly, both to the content provider and the consumer: NRATV promoting gun violence under guise of “Second Amendment freedom? Free. Documentary on Elizabeth Warren and a fair deal for all? Expensive for both the producer and for consumers to subscribe to see it. Or think of charging a premium to producers of Will & Grace, a show which helped America see LGBT community as real people, or Murphy Brown, which promoted women’s rights, but giving evangelist Franklin Graham unlimited distribution.
Seem fantastical? Well, Facebook systematically charged the Clinton campaign significantly more for ad space than the Trump campaign because Clinton’s ads were less “provocative.” They could claim the difference in cost is how fast they want their video to download. Let’s remember that the Supreme Court “Citizens United” case that opened the floodgates to political spending was a group that had produced an anti-Hillary Clinton hit-piece (Scalia, an activist, not an ‘originalist’ jurist, resurrected the case in order to establish the precedent that cash is equivalent to speech.)
It goes to the overall theme of Trumpism: weaponizing wealth – dollars are not just “free speech” (as Scalia and the right-wing Supreme Court said in Citizens United) but a measure and means of political power – and pulling up the ladder to upward mobility for everyone else – public education, public access TV and radio.
Instead of “Got Milk?” Trump administration slogan is “Got Cash?”
Congress needs to act and legislate the reality that the online world, the Internet, the world-wide-web is an essential utility, a critical tool for nationhood and democracy, and access and messaging should not be determined by money.
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