Why the Death of Net Neutrality is an Attack on Free Speech

by JOHN LYNCH

December 14th, 2017- A day that will live in the annals of Internet history and meme culture for years to come. The FCC, under the direction of corporate puppet *cough cough* Commissioner Ajit Pai, voted to repeal the 2015 net neutrality protections in an incredibly partisan 3-2 vote. The vote killed the consumer protections laid down by the Obama administration that kept Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from doing generally terrible things like throttling Internet speeds, preferring certain sites over others, and turning the Internet into cable in your pocket. The agency’s commission to repeal the guidelines unsurprisingly voted along partisan lines, with all tree affirming votes coming from Republicans and both votes against from the Democrats. The ruling was met from swift backlash against the FCC, Commissioner Pai, and the commission from both sides of the political aisle in a storm of enraged Tweets, rabid comments from both sides of the debate, and expressions of disappointment from multiple news sources and companies that rely heavily on the Internet to do business. But beyond the memes, comments, and protests lies a far more dangerous possibility of infringement on free speech- a concept, dear readers, worse than slow Netflix buffer speeds.

When providing an accurate autopsy of the death of net neutrality, we must first delve into the motives and backstory of the perpetrator and the victim. Net neutrality was an excellent set of guidelines that have protected the Internet for the last two years from corporate interests. The rules included restrictions against intentionally slowing Internet speeds, bans on site preference from ISPs, and regulations that would keep the Internet uncensored. These regulations essentially protected the Internet from becoming, as author Ernest Cline wrote in his book Ready Player One, “an overpriced theme park”. On the other side, we have Ajit Pai, who may go down as the most hated man of 2017. Pai, a former Verizon advisor and marionette of corporate ISPs, was named FCC commissioner by President Donald Trump in January of this year, having worked within the agency since 2007. Pai has come under intense scrutiny for a conflict of interests due to his corporate past at Verizon, but, like so many other members of the current presidential cabinet, got the job anyway. Our perpetrator sits firmly in the pocket of corporate interests, and that does not bode well for the future of free speech.

So what are the implications of losing net neutrality? For starters, there will be at least four to five months before your ISP can do anything under the new guidelines. The ruling needs to pass Congress, which it most certainly will given the Republican majority in both houses. But after that, your ISP will likely be free to do as they please in regards to your Internet plan. A very real possibility is the subdivision of what you can access on the Internet into packages, much like cable- a plan for gaming, a plan for browsing, a plan for video streaming, etc. Rates, depending on what you require from your day to day Internet use, will vary per customer, but for families that depend on high-volume plans, bills could see a sharp increase. After all, as Commissioner Pai claims, these anti-net neutrality measures are designed with “…helping consumers and promoting competition…” in mind.

Through all of this, keep in mind that the foremost reason for the death of net neutrality is corporate greed. If not for allowing companies to charge more for worse Internet, and allowing corporations to strike exclusivity deals with companies, what other purpose could these measures have? In the interest of allowing more corporate intervention into what consumers can access on the Internet, the FCC has now infringed on the greatest platform of free speech the world has ever known. The battle over free speech has changed- the true enemies of free speech are no longer abstract threats like hackers, cyber terrorists, or other nations interfering with American affairs. No, by killing net neutrality, these unelected sycophants of corporate ISPs have made themselves the hardest enemies to fight: The kind that lives within our own walls.