The Trump administration is making moves to repeal Obama era Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules on so-called “net-neutrality”. Straight away, social media became a kind of ill-informed circus with many fearing that online free speech is now endangered-which is very much is, but not for the reasons generally being proffered.
The concept of net-neutrality as defined by the FCC, has nothing specifically to do with policing internet content. So while many are saying that ending net neutrality will mean that one will no longer be allowed to post political content online that challenges the mainstream media/deep state narrative, this is technically not true, although the danger is a lurking one, for reasons which shall be explored subsequently.
The deceptive term net-neutrality, brought to you by the same country that called the massacre of one million innocent Iraqis “operation Iraqi freedom”, was a series of new FCC rules passed in 2015, designed to regulate internet providers, the biggest of which in the US today are, Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, AT & T and Cox. It must also be said that the current debate in the US will only effect US based web users.
The aim was to regulate the internet in the same way as other telecom services. Such regulations are designed to prohibit service providers for showing preferential treatment to any specific website. To give some hyperbolic examples, if one was using Comcast as an internet provider, without net-neutrality, the fear existed that Cox could allow “Billy’s Cox Communications Fansite” (not a real website) to load faster than “Uncle Jo’s Online Museum of Stalin” (also not a real website).
In reality, if ‘web provider A’ had a business relationship with Netflix, it could make it so that Netflix videos stream faster on their service than that of a rival video streaming website, such as Amazon Prime.
Whether a service provider could do that even without net-neutrality rules is debatable due to unfair competition and anti-trust laws which not only predate Obama’s net-neutrality rules, but predate the invention of the internet.
However, if for whatever reason, an internet service provider wanted to slow down a website owned by a non-wealthy individual rather than a mega-corporation like Amazon, it could conceivably do so, unless enough small website owners filed a class action lawsuit against such a service provider due to the individual lack of funds that a large corporation would have at its disposal.
The argument proffered by those in favour of repealing existing net-neutrality laws in the US is that companies like Comcast or AT & T are private bodies who should be able to operate freely in the market place with as few restrictions as possible. The counter-argument states that because customers in certain areas have a limited set of options in respect of which provider to choose, it is merely helping to enshrine a monopoly rather than allowing free consumer choice to flourish.
US based journalist Joe Lauria summed up the conflict when saying that it is essentially an argument over whether big government or big corporations control internet service provision in the US.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange followed this train of thought and cautioned Trump that in spite of his ‘pro-business’ policies, many big corporations are Trump opponents and favour the equally pro-business Democratic party whose guiding ‘ideologue’ is still Hillary Clinton for all intents and purposes.
Dear @realDonaldTrump: 'net neutrality' of some form is important. Your opponents control most internet companies. Without neutrality they can make your tweets load slowly, CNN load fast and infest everyone's phones with their ads. Careful.
— Defend Assange Campaign (@DefendAssange) November 21, 2017
Assange makes a good point. While I personally doubt that the US President’s online content would slowed down, what is more realistic is that the many independent websites and on-line communities who helped Donald Trump win the election on a comparatively small budget vis-a-vis his opponent, could be slowed down or even arbitrarily censored if internet providers were to block access to websites based on a politicised set of terms and conditions.
While the Obama era net-neutrality laws are flawed and deceptively named, as the internet is still far from immune from Federal censorship based on increasingly arbitrary and politicised definitions of what constitutes threats to national security or worse yet that vulgar term “hate speech”, the Trump administration proposals could take a flawed piece of legislation and replace it with unabashed corporately derived censorship. Since most big US corporations have become mouthpieces of the pro-censorship Democratic party and the broader US ‘deep state’, things could rapidly go from bad to worse.
The ill-thought out plans to corporatise the internet from a President who correctly said “we don’t have time for political correctness” (aka censorship), seems to be, like many things in the Trump administration, motivated by Donald Trump’s personal loathing of Obama, more than any real concerted attempts to improve faulty legislation.
As someone who also loathes Barack Obama, I would say to Donald Trump, that while abolishing the 2015 net-neutrality regulations will not guarantee an erosion of free speech, it is a slippery slope that one is best to avoid.
If anything, regulations on individual corporate social media sites such a Facebook, should be implemented to stop social media providers, who themselves are now functioning as telecom corporations, from censoring content. This is the way forward. At the end of the day, most Americans whether from the left or right, can relate to a robust defence of every-man’s free speech above an argument in favour of giving big corporations more freedom over ordinary people than they already have.