The End of Equality on The Internet

February 23rd, 2014

Comcast’s recent purchase of Time Warner could very likely be the the end of what’s called Net Neutrality.

Net Neutrality is a fairly inclusive term, but what it means for the average person is that the Net is not subject to a corporate or government monopoly—one that will dictate what you can see or not see—or how fast you will be able to see it.

Right now you could have thirty billion or three hundred; if you are hooked into a cable system, you are going to be able to see whatever you want on the Net and it will come to you in roughly the same amount of time. Equality. Democracy. The Net is, with some qualifications, the modern version of The Commons—public property available to all.

Plenty of businesses have long had various tiers catering to customers based on ability to pay more—and so there is unequal treatment. Business Class, First Class, Rajah Class, on planes and trains. You will be far more comfortable and enjoy privileges denied to the “economy” class. But still, everyone—rich or poor—will see the same view from the window and get to their destination at the same time.

Banks have long had special privileges and perks for “private clients”. What’s interesting to me, culturally, is that they were never so blatant about it as they are now. Not so long ago—reckoning in terms of decades—you wouldn’t have seen so many ads and even big signs in bank windows advertising special wealth management and special treatment for private clients.

This new, straightforward pitch to the rich would, up until the Eighties, have been truly offensive to the public’s common understanding and assumptions about democracy. People lived through a depression and fought a war for democracy. Taxes were set at a progressive rate and unions were making it possible for there to be a real middle class. Equality. Democracy.
Obviously the rich have always had special and better treatment but it was not something you advertised.

 Of course, there are other businesses that have tiered or multi-level service for customers who spend more or less on a regular basis. It makes sense if your purpose (small business or large corporation) is to make money. It’s capitalism after all—no spiritual or moral considerations are involved. But the Net is a place where we have to come expect more or less equal treatment, whoever we are and whatever class we’re in.

The FCC, the first stop in approving or disapproving this merger, is a Roosevelt era invention, established to make sure the public airwaves served the public and were available to all equally for the price of a radio or television. But for some time now and even more recently, this watchdog group is packed with people who worked for the cable companies before and who will be working for them again as soon as they leave the agency. The current chair of the FCC, appointed by Obama, was formerly the chief lobbyist for the cable industry. You can figure out the rest.

The point here is if the FCC approves this purchase and the Justice Department fails to try to stop it, and the courts (Think Scalia, Roberts, et. al.) approve it, then, as sure as a the sun rises in the East and politicians are bent, we will no longer have Net Neutrality.
We will wind up being divided into classes—shoved into tiers by the ensuing monopoly. You will have to pay more to get the same service you do now. And if you pay a higher price—a platinum level, business class price, you will get your information much faster.

And what’s worse—since Comcast owns NBC Universal and Time Warner owns other large content providers, this new monopoly could easily make their stuff available and neutralize or eliminate other content. And what’s worse than that, this monopoly, since all monopolies are essentially conservative, can easily decide that all the “left or Liberal” websites are not worth carrying because they are offensive or indecent or unpatriotic—and drop them. If you depend on places like Alternet or Common Dreams or Democracy Now for your real information and news, then you’d be out of luck. The very least of it is that if you need installation and repair services, they will be more incompetent than they already are and cost you twice as much.

 Read the article below for a much more precise critique of this merger and the great disaster it would be if it actually went through.

** The article will take some to load. If it doesn’t you can put Washington Post, Comcast and Van den Heuvel into your search engine.

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