There is no question that the American people favor net neutrality. They are literally flooding the Federal Communications Commission with pleas for preservation of “The First Amendment of the Internet.”
Americans know that without net neutrality’s guarantee of equal treatment of all content, the balance will be tipped toward messages from the billionaire class that already dominates too much of the national—and international—debate. The people are aroused and engaged with this issue. They are speaking up as never before: voicing objections to Trump administration schemes to barter off the digital discourse to the highest bidder.
But that does not mean that the American people will get what they want. Donald Trump’s chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, has repeatedly signaled that he wants to dismantle the net-neutrality protections that were put in place during the Obama years after a massive campaign by democracy advocates, consumer groups, and defenders of a free and open Internet.
If Pai’s FCC votes later this summer for that dismantlement, the future of personal communications, education, commerce, economic arrangements, and democracy itself will be radically altered. The fight over net neutrality is about much more than the fight over whether telecommunications companies will be able to create “fast lanes” for paying content from corporations and billionaire-funded politicians while relegating the essential informational sharing of civil society to “slow lanes” on the periphery of what was supposed to be “the information superhighway.” Because our lives are now so digital, and because they are becoming so automated, the fight over net neutrality is really the fight over the whole of the future.
It comes down to a simple question: Will that future be defined by civic and democratic values? Or will it defined by commercial and entertainment values?
The telecommunications companies have an answer. They want to colonize the Internet, as they have other communications platforms, with an eye toward reaping immense and unwarranted profits. And they are willing to pay almost anything for that privilege. According to a fresh study from the nonpartisan MapLight project to reveal the influence of money in politics: “Three of the largest internet service providers and the cable television industry’s primary trade association have spent more than a half-billion dollars lobbying the federal government during the past decade on issues that include net neutrality.”