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Thursday, December 8, 2016

When it comes to Internet Service Providers and high-speed Internet, the consumer marketplace has hardly been a model of competitiveness. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to choose from two providers, and some of us only have access to one.

These digital conduits are essential parts of America’s utility infrastructure, nearly as basic as electricity and water pipes. They connect us (and our children) to worldwide knowledge, news, diverse viewpoints and other fundamental tools of citizenship. And, of course, we can buy and sell through them, be entertained, run our businesses, connect with friends, get up-to-the-minute scores, follow the weather and — yes indeedy — pay our bills.

Yet while this digital highway is deemed vital to our nation’s well-being, access to it is not offered as a public service — i.e., an investment in the common good. Instead, it is treated as just another profit center for a few corporations.

Amassing market power to gouge customers is bad enough, but ISPs plan on eviscerating the pure egalitarian ethic of the Internet, which is why they were so upset when President Obama recently urged the FCC to back a free and open Internet.

Like an uncensored global bulletin board, the great virtue of the Internet is that no one controls its content. This digital communication technology has been so spectacularly successful and so socially valuable because it is a wide-open, democratic forum, accessible on equal terms to all who want to put information, images, opinions, etc. on it or to download any of the same from it. Since its invention, the guiding principle behind the use of this liberating technology has been that no corporation, government, religion, or other controlling power should be its gatekeeper.

This open-access tenet is dubbed “net neutrality,” meaning the system doesn’t care if you’re royalty or a commoner, an establishmentarian or a rebel, a brand-name corporation or an unknown startup, a billionaire or a poverty-wage laborer — you are entitled to equal treatment in sending or getting information in the worldwide webosphere. That’s an important democratic virtue. As we’ve learned in other spheres, however, corporate executives are not ones to let virtue stand in the way of profit, and today’s telecom tycoons are no different. For some time, they’ve been scheming to dump the idea of net neutrality, viewing its public benefit as an unwarranted obstacle to their desire to grab greater profits.

• Rather than having one big broadband “freeway” open for transporting everyone’s Internet content, the ISP giants intend to create a special system of lanes for high-speed traffic.

• This express lane will be made available to those who want to rush their information/viewpoints/programs/etc. to the public and to get greater visibility for their content by having it separated from the mass clutter of the freeway.

• The ISPs will charge a premium price to those who want their content transported via this special Internet toll-lane system.

By creating this first-class fare, the likes of Comcast or Time Warner Cable elevate themselves from mere transporters of content to exalted robber barons. They would be empowered to decide (on the basis of cash) which individuals, companies, and so forth will be allowed in the premium lane of what is supposed to be a democratic freeway. The “winners” will be (1) the ISP giants that would reap billions from this artificial profit lane, and (2) the powerful content providers (e.g., Disney, the Koch brothers, Walmart, the Pentagon, and Monsanto) that can easily pay top dollar to ride in the privileged lane (and deduct the ticket price from their corporate taxes).

The losers, obviously, will be the vast majority of internet users: (1) the dynamic cosmos of groups, small companies, and other content providers without the deep pockets needed to buy their way out of the slow lanes (which ISP monopolists could intentionally make even slower), and (2) the broad public that will have its access to the full range of Internet offerings blocked by the neon glare of those flashing their purchased messages in the fast lanes, limiting what we’re allowed to read, watch, listen to and interact with on our computers, smartphones and TV screens.

The biggest loser though, would be the Internet itself, which would be made to surrender its determinedly democratic ethic to the plutocratic rule of corporate profiteers.

To stand up for a free and open Internet, go to www.FightForTheFuture.org.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: Knight725 via Flickr

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7 Responses to Net Neutrality Stands In The Way Of Larger Corporate Profits

  1. The biggest problem I see with allowing the ISPs to control “traffic” by charging different rates is most non-profit organizations (the ones that usually have .org at the end of their URLs) cannot afford the higher fees, and could be crowded out of the market. Then you have the businesses (denoted by .com or .biz) who will scream about their profit margins being cut into, and then would have to pass the costs on to their customers. Granted, no one would notice any slowdown on anything with a .gov extension because they appear to all be connected on 2400 baud dial-up modems anyway.

  2. I think this is absolutely the correct thing to do. There already is no choice in 99% of the country to who your ISP is. And then you give that ISP the ability to tell you there are some sites that you will not be allowed to visit?? Or, if your ISP happens to be a cable company, they tell you that you can’t stream movies at a rate that makes them watchable. The idea that your ISP can control what you do online and how fast you can do it is honestly, not in any way fair and should not be allowed. You pay to use the internet – all of it. Since there are no other companies in your area to choose from, then you should be able to utilize the complete internet from your provider. This is the reason it should be considered a utility. Why on earth wouldn’t something like a cable company be considered a utility anyway??? By whatever definition you use, it IS a utility – regulate it as such. The ISP has one responsibility here – collect the fee from you for the service – and connect your computer(s) to the internet – what you do with it from there (legally) is your choice, they should have nothing more to do with telling you where you can surf and cannot surf.

  3. If you like the internet as it is today then you support net neutrality. Any change in the free for all nature would kill sites like this one.

  4. I am weary of Profits and handouts being the driving force for Congress as it makes choices that affect all the people, not just government folk.

    Following the advice and choices of major corporations is NOT the way to run a supposed democracy or a republic with justice & rights for all..

    PROFITS for corporations of any kind, must Not be allowed to be the dominate force in making decisions – be it keeping net-neutrality or environment issues.

    Do Not bend to the rich and powerful!!! We the people object!!

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