Over 100 people turned out to the Federal Communications Commission office in Washington, DC today to tell the agency one message: “Keep our internet free.” Despite the outspoken support in favor of maintaining net neutrality, the commission voted 3-2 today in favor of beginning the process to establish new rules that will allow internet service providers to charge companies for faster and more reliable connections.
In the past 30 days, over 21,000 people have told the FCC what they think of the new net neutrality rules. The Federal Communications Commission seems to have heard the complaints. The wire service report on the vote includes several quotes that are funny in a grim and bitter kind of way, given that the agency's vote effectively kills the future of net neutrality.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel expressed misgivings about the plan before voting in favor of it. "I believe the process that got us to this rulemaking today is flawed. I would have preferred a delay,” she said. “I think we moved too fast to be fair.”
The FCC moved too fast to be fair—and now the internet will be moving too slowly to be fair to people and businesses who don’t have the cash to pay up for Comcast’s “fast lane” service.
Then there’s this line from the Reuters report:
“I will not allow the national asset of an open Internet to be compromised. I understand this issue in my bones," said [Chariman Tom] Wheeler, formerly a private equity investor and cable industry lobbyist.
Yikes. That’s what it really comes down to: this change in our federal policy on internet access is being driven by companies that will directly financially benefit from the more inequitable rules. The cable and telecom companies have argued to strike down net neutrality on the basis that doing so will create a more “free market” approach to the internet and therefore be better for consumer. But killing net neutrality this isn’t good for the millions of Americans who use the internet—it’s good for companies who want to make more money by charging for quality service.
That’s why net neutrality matters not just to people who want their cat videos will stream as quickly as ever, but to people who care about social justice. People are willing to turn out to protest what sounds like a wonky, technical federal decision because it’s actually an issue of both class and independent media. The impact of this rule change will likely be hurtful to small media outlets—and any company who can’t afford to pony up what Comcast wants to charge for fast internet service. If a planned merger with Time Warner goes through, Comcast will control about half the high speed internet in the country. Since more Americans get their news from online sources than from the radio or TV, getting rid of the current laws that require internet providers to provide equal service to all content-providers threatens the future of small media. If the companies who can pay more are able to deliver their articles and videos to audiences faster, the big businesses that own the majority of American media will be better able to serve their readers than the independent small fries.
Plus, getting rid of net neutrality and allowing Comcast to merge could increase the cost of the internet for consumers. Comcast has a history of charging more than its competitors, so internet access (and all the access to news and pop culture that comes with it) could become to expensive for folks who are counting every penny. in her full statement on the issue, Commissioner Rosenworcel notes how important internet access is to engaging in our society: "It is our modern town square. It is our printing press. It is our shared platform for opportunity." Moving forward on allowing Comcast to more tightly control access to that town square is a bad step.
Today's protest outside the FCC. This photo, along with the Comcast graphic, are courtesy of Free Press.
The internet really is a national asset, as Chairman Wheeler says. It’s where we have important political and personal discussions and it’s where we get our news. It’s where we promote feminist ideas and publish writing that pushes the needle of mainstream thought. The government should be committed to protecting equal access to the internet—not protecting the profits of companies like Comcast.
You can file your public comment on the FCC's proposed plan right here.
Related Reading: Net Neutrality is a Feminist Issue—Here's Why.
Sarah Mirk is the online editor of Bitch Media. She tweets @sarahmirk.