If You're Outraged about the end of Net Neutrality, You're Not Paying Attention


I'm on a mission of love here y'all. I swear that I am. But every time I see a Facebook post crying to the heavens about the end of net neutrality, all I feel is seething rage. So many people so upset over something they know nothing about. What's worse is that I see it coming from progressives, even self-described radicals. I see these people talking about how this new government decision has ruined the open Internet, and how hard it will make it for innovators, with seemingly no awareness as to how they've been parroting the talking points Republicans have been using since before Reagan.

In many ways I shouldn't be surprised. It's not their fault. Silicon Valley be straight killin' it at the snake-oil-selling game. Almost all of the terms we use to understand the technological/capitalist developments in the past 35 years, “Web 2.0”, “open-source”, the “sharing economy”, hell even “the Internet”, the concept of a “technology industry”, and yes “net neutrality” are disingenuous constructions that serve an ideological purpose.

The Californian ideology it is called, and damn son, is it ever. Combining a vague sense of mysticism, and a schizophrenic belief in capitalism, it posits that that computer systems, combined with the magic of unfettered capitalism will in and of itself bring about the liberation of humanity. It also carries those wonderful American colonial overtones, with mythologies of plucky individuals moving west to seek their fortune on the open Internet, a rich bountiful land of freedom. And it is into this narrative that the issue of net neutrality falls.

To carry this inexact analogy forward, the debate over net neutrality is something along the lines of cattle ranchers vs. railroad barons, if railroad companies were forced to accommodate all the cattle ranchers wanted to put on them, but charge them all the same flat rate.

None of this is to defend telecom companies. Indeed, Silicon Valley business interests have found a useful villain in Verizon & co., whose crimes against humanity are too long to list here. And when lobbying fails, faux-populism must arise. Unstated in the debate is whether or not this technologically liberatory project is even attempting to actually do what it claims.

And here is where the reality comes up against the platitudes. Because, for the country that supposedly invented the Internet, we sure do have a lot to learn about broadband access. Currently, over 30% of American households do not have internet access, which puts us 15th in the world. The reason for this discrepancy is the same reason for the end of net neutrality: the stranglehold telecom companies have over the government.

There is no credible formulation of an “advanced” society that includes the Internet but does not treat it as a public utility, but that's how it is in the United States of America, precisely because of the extensive lobbying of telco oligopolies. And of course, it is only a rudimentary guess as to which demographic/ethnic lines this lack of broadband access falls along. Inasmuch as there is an issue with regards to Internet access that anyone in these United States should raise awareness/outrage and/or organize on, it would be the digital divide.


But, the digital divide is not really among Silicon Valley's concerns. Case in point: the letter that over 150 “tech” companies signed, yelling at the FCC for fucking up their hustle, contains no language arguing for classifying Internet access as a public utility or Internet Service Providers as common carriers (a la telephone or electricity companies). This is because they don't really care.

Take note, you who have squeed over Google Fiber. It may have sounded like something too good to be true. The company whose mission is to organize (i.e. control) the world's information and also not be evil while doing so has taken it upon themselves to provide high-speed broadband access to the people. Except of course, in the process of doing so, there is a pattern as to which neighborhoods of Kansas City or Austin, TX are left out of this wave of the future.

Even more curiously, as Google, the self-appointed prime defender of “Internet freedom,” moves into the realm of Internet service provider (not even getting into their supposed plan to liberate Africa with Internet access via weather balloons and its lovely colonial overtones), it has had a few second thoughts about the virtues of net neutrality. All of which is to say, that no firm that fashions itself as a “tech company” is coming to save us. And this is why none of us should waste our time waging populist campaigns for their business interests.

The problem of net neutrality, of universal Internet access, is fundamentally an American problem. The firmament of American mythology has always been the dream of complete autonomy, of a nation of self-sufficient owners. This is the dream that has has been espoused from Thomas Jefferson to George W. Bush, and it is this same dream (a.k.a. self-delusion) that makes The Cloud one that contains acid rain. Our conception of the Internet as a platform for self-enrichment and not as a basic piece of infrastructure is why the digital divide persists, and raging a shitfit over net neutrality will do nothing to solve this problem. Yes, the prospect of a suddenly slower Netflix may cause night terrors for some of us, but for the people who can't even afford Internet access, or the people who can only afford the arbitrary 2 mbps that Time Warner allows for the plebes, net neutrality is a nonissue.

What the end of net neutrality signifies is not the end of the Internet, but the end of the open range. The end of the romantic individualistic settler-colonial form of capitalism, replaced by a top-down corporate driven one, the one we are so used to and politically apathetic towards. Yes, it is sad to lose this new American dream, but waking up to reality is almost always a sad affair.


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