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Guest Post By Sartre, BATR.
The worst fears of all free speech proponents are upon us. The Verizon suit against the Federal Communications Commission, appellate decision sets the stage for a Supreme Court review. The Wall Street Journal portrays the ruling in financial terms: “A federal court has tossed out the FCC’s “open internet” rules, and now internet service providers are free to charge companies like Google and Netflixhigher fees to deliver content faster.”
In essence, this is the corporate spin that the decision is about the future cost for being connected.
“The ruling was a blow to the Obama administration, which has pushed the idea of “net neutrality.” And it sharpened the struggle by the nation’s big entertainment and telecommunications companies to shape the regulation of broadband, now a vital pipeline for tens of millions of Americans to view video and other media.
For consumers, the ruling could usher in an era of tiered Internet service, in which they get some content at full speed while other websites appear slower because their owners chose not to pay up.
“It takes the Internet into completely uncharted territory,” said Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor who coined the term net neutrality.”
What the Journal is not telling you is that this “uncharted territory” is easy to project. If ISP’s will be able to charge varied rates or decide to vary internet speed, it is a very short step towards selectively discriminate against sites based upon content. Do not get lulled into thinking that constitutional protective political speech is guaranteed.
Once again, the world according to the communication giants paint a very different interpretation as the article, Verizon called hypocritical for equating net neutrality to censorship illustrates.
“Verizon’s argument that network neutrality regulations violated the firm’s First Amendment rights. In Verizon’s view, slowing or blocking packets on a broadband network is little different from a newspaper editor choosing which articles to publish, and should enjoy the same constitutional protection.”
The response from advocates of the Net Neutrality standard, that is about to vanish, sums up correctly.
“The First Amendment does not apply, however, when Verizon is merely transmitting the content of third parties. Moreover, these groups point out, Verizon itself has disclaimed responsibility for its users’ content when it was convenient to do so, making its free speech arguments ring hollow.”
Prepare for the worst. The video, Prepare To Be Robbed. Net Neutrality Is Dead!, which includes frank language and expletives, provides details that place the use of internet access into question coming out of this appellate decision.
Analyze the implications logically. It is one thing to charge a for profit service like Netflix a higher fee to transverse the electronic bandwidth of a communication network. Selling a membership to an end user is the source of their cash flow. However, most activist political sites usually provide internet users free access to their particular viewpoint and source links.
Your internet service provider controls the pipeline that feeds your devices and data connection. No matter which company you pay for this service, you are dependent upon this union. A free WiFi link may well become a memory. Beaming a satellite signal, mostly is an alternative, when DSL, cable or other broadband is not available.
No matter what method is used to surf the net, this decision clearly implies that internet access is now a privilege, at the effective discretion, if not mercy; of a provider that allow an account for service.
Next, consider the implication that search engines will use this decision to re-work their algorithms lowering their spider bots selection of sites that challenge the “PC” culture. Restrictive categorization used for years by Google, Yahoo and Bing can use this decision as cover to purge dissenting sites even more from their result rankings.
It is common knowledge that YouTube censors and targets certain uploads. One particular subject that experiences technical glitches is Fukushima. The video You Tube Censoring Truther Channels explains the drill. Add to the frustration are the ads, especially the ones with no skip option and imagine future requirements for uploading approval. What is next, a paid subscription to use and upload to the service?
Yes, the Ending Net Neutrality Signals A Digital Paradigm Shift. It also means that they could unfairly push sites like (add the name of your favorite sites) out of the way of users if they (the “PC” protectors) didn’t like them, acting as effective censors.
Stephen Lendman writes in Digital Democracy vs. Corporate Dominance: R.I.P. Internet Neutrality?
“Without Net Neutrality, ISPs will be able to devise new schemes to charge users more for access and services, making it harder for us to communicate online – and easier for companies to censor our speech.”
Corporate gatekeepers will control “where you go and what you see.”
Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable “will be able to block content and speech they don’t like, reject apps that compete with their own offerings, and prioritize Web traffic…”
They’ll be able to “reserve the fastest loading speeds for the highest bidders (while) sticking everyone else with the slowest.”
Doing so prohibits free and open communications. Censorship will become policy. Net Neutrality is too important to lose.”
Ready yourself for the inevitable results! According to Michael Hiltzik, Net neutrality is dead. Bow to Comcast and Verizon, your overlords.
“In the U.S., there’s no practical competition. The vast majority of households essentially have a single broadband option, their local cable provider. Verizon and AT&T provide Internet service, too, but for most customers they’re slower than the cable service. Some neighborhoods get telephone fiber services, but Verizon and AT&T have ceased the rollout of their FiOs and U-verse services–if you don’t have it now, you’re not getting it.
Who deserves the blame for this wretched combination of monopolization and profiteering by ever-larger cable and phone companies? The FCC, that’s who. The agency’s dereliction dates back to 2002, when under Chairman Michael Powell it reclassified cable modem services as “information services” rather than “telecommunications services,” eliminating its own authority to regulate them broadly. Powell, by the way, is now the chief lobbyist in Washington for the cable TV industry, so the payoff wasn’t long in coming.”
In a digital environment, access to an internet that provides uncensored content at the lowest costs is a direct threat to the corporate economy. Innovation and creative cutting-edge services are clearly marked as competing challenges to the Amazon jungle of merchandising. The big will just get bigger.
Then the unavoidable effects from the “all the news fit to report” mass medium, intensifies their suppression of honest investigative journalism. Filtering out the alternative and truth media is the prime objective of this ruling. Eliminating political dissent from the internet is the ultimate implication. What would the net be like without access to the Drudge Report?
When the cable or satellite services bundle their programming into a “take it or leave it” format, the choices for the consumer becomes a major financial burden just to watch the few channels that have interest. Applying this pattern to the internet will cause even greater resentment.
Just look at the disaster from the Yahoo retooling. That Ms. “wicked witch” MM have pushed up the stock price, but ask any yahoo group member what they think of the new format. This is a classic example of how to turn off users and ruin your product.
Subscription services are playing with fire. With the collapse of the main street economy, the added fees to access content that is mediocre at best, is the actual fallout. Like the dinosaur TV networks, the corporatist sites risk total rejection from internet visitors.
Totalitarian culturalists are rejoicing with this latest damper on free speech. News by way of government press releases is pure propaganda. How did this happen?
For a short explanation history, Nilay Patel writes in The Wrong Words: How The FCC Lost Neutrality And Could Kill The Internet.
“The FCC tried to appease the out-of-control corporate egos of behemoths like Verizon and Comcast by pretending internet providers were special and classifying them as “information service providers” and not “telecommunications carriers.” The wrong words. Then, once everyone was wearing the nametag they wanted, the FCC tried to impose common carrier-style telecommunications regulations on them anyway.”
Credo Action believes that “FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler can undo the Bush-era decision to deregulate broadband Internet providers and allow them to operate outside of the legal framework that has traditionally applied to companies that offer two-way communication services.”
Such optimism seems naive in light of the real controllers of policy, much the same, for the Supreme Court coming to the rescue. Mark this court decision as the strategic destruction of the internet as a beacon of unfeigned free expression of information and open political speech. The programmers will be working overtime to set up layers of tasks, restrictions and huddlers to jump over. If you think Facebook censorship is bad, get ready for a purely governmental approved net along the Chinese model.
It seems that while internet activists and advocates of the free flow of information have been focused on the dangerous and looming Trans-Pacific Partnership, the debate for Net Neutrality has been absent from recent memory. The TPP has the potential to completely upend life as we know it and does warrant a great bit of your attention. However, the persistent debate of Net Neutrality rules has now been brought back front and center.
On Tuesday the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against rules originally adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in 2010. The rules, known as Net Neutrality, were designed to protect the openness of the internet. The 2-1 decision means the FCC created rules do not apply to broadband services such as Comcast and Verizon, the two companies behind the lawsuit.
The D.C. Circuit decided that the FCC had classified broadband services differently than it does traditional telecommunications companies and could not hold broadband services to the same standard. The FCC used the concept of “common carriage” when developing the basis of the Net Neutrality rules. The concept hinges on the idea that common pathways (the internet, waterways, roads) should be open to all. A business can charge for services using such pathways but they cannot discriminate.
With the internet this means that before Tuesday companies could not discriminate traffic based on a tier system, or payment of a fee. The idea was that the internet infrastructure that provides all internet content should be open to anyone. The end of the rules means that large corporations with deep pocket books could pay broadband providers extra cash to ensure their sites and services stream in excellent quality while viewers of smaller sites could suffer from a lower quality internet experience.
It doesn’t take long to see how this could affect internet censorship. Smaller journalist outfits, or independent entrepreneurial ventures could be blocked from the internet by being unable to pay fees that Verizon, Time Warner or Comcast may eventually impose. There are also fears that the United States government’s close relationship to certain corporations could lead to quality experiences of some sites and the slow elimination of websites critical of the government and its policies.
How did we get here?
In 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that broadband services should not be classified in the same manner as telecom services. The idea being that broadband providers’ infrastructure is not considered a public right and not regulated under the concept of common carrier. Based on that decision the appeals court rejected the FCC position that broadband services fall under Net Neutrality rules.
The FCC put in place official rules for Net Neutrality after a failed attempt to fine Comcast based on Net Neutrality principles, but not official rules, that were in place in 2009. Comcast had slowed traffic from the torrent downloading service BitTorrent in order to manage traffic and limit downloads. In April 2010 the same D.C. court ruled that the FCC had no authority to enforce regulations on Internet providers. The case dealt with what many fear will happen in the coming age of tiered internet services.
Soon after, the FCC created official Net Neutrality rules. It was these new rules that Tuesday’s decision concluded, once again, that the FCC does not have the authority to regulate broadband services under. So what are the rules of Net Neutrality and how do they affect you?
The first of three rules required broadband companies to remain open and transparent to customers about how they handle traffic on their systems.
The second rule is designed to keep broadband services from blocking legal content on their networks.
The third rule, and the one which does not apply to broadband services any longer, prevents “unreasonable” discrimination against traffic.
It is important to note that the court did reject a claim by Verizon that Congress did not give the FCC jurisdiction over internet access at all. The court referenced section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as giving the FCC authority over the internet. This means that the Commission is free to set rules for standard internet traffic but at this point broadband services are not under their jurisdiction. This goes for all broadband providers except Comcast. In the company’s 2011 merger with NBC they agreed to follow the FCC’s Open Internet Rules until 2018.
The End of the Internet or an Opportunity for Creation?
So although this battle is far from over we could begin to see the internet offered to customers at various prices for differing quality, speed, and content. The usual knee jerk reaction to this type of action or inaction by the government is to call for more regulation. Corporations continue to have a growing influence in our lives; from the food we eat, to the clothes we buy and the way we use the internet. It is frightening to think that the free and open internet we have grown to love could be stripped away. But, perhaps, this competition between the corporatist enslavement of our freedoms should be seen for what it truly is: a competition between free, intelligent, creative people and monopolistic, mechanical, corporate governance.
Instead of expecting the United States government of 2014 to hear our cries and pull back the tyranny, we should see this as an opportunity to create new ways of using the infrastructure of the internet and broadband services. Sure, the mainstream World Wide Web may be completely monitored and eventually censored, dull, and irrelevant, but that does not mean innovation will cease. With the open source technological revolution growing daily it is likely that some genius out there has already created the answer to our problems.
Ideas like alternative DNS server projects such as the Open Nic project, mesh networks, the Darknet, and more will stretch the boundaries of what the internet can be. These ideas will be the ones that eliminate the effectiveness of any government regulation anyways. They will also render any silly corporate takeover of communications largely pointless.
Now of course, those who choose to remain in the corporate mainstream culture will be left with the dry, carbon copy versions of music, clothes, technology and yes, the internet. But once the clamping down on individual expression and creation reaches a breaking point the population will seek a better alternative. With the growth of peer-to-peer, open source technology it is only a matter of time before the internet expands into a number of different, competing webs of information.
So spread the word about the looming dangers of censorship and internet favoritism, but don’t forget to remind others that information longs to be free. It is inevitable that governments and their corporate partners will work together to limit freedoms. It is also inevitable that the people will tire of such arrangements, create alternatives, and find ways to be even more free. If you want to keep the free and open internet – fight for it. Create it. Build it.
Derrick Broze is an investigative journalist, community activist, gardener and promoter from Houston, Texas. He is the co-founder of The Houston Free Thinkers, and co-host of Free Thinker Radio. Broze also hosts and produces a weekly podcast under the name the Conscious Resistance Live. His writing can be found on TheConsciousResistance.com and at ActivistPost.com.