The FCC, under the guiding hand of a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry, has proposed changes to regulation that will allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to charge companies for a “fast lane” to their customers. This, in effect, does away with the concept of network neutrality, the idea that all information on the web should be treated the same. The ramifications of allowing wealthy companies to prioritize their data over others’ are vertiginous and terrifying.
Tin House contributor, Cory Doctorow, sums the nut of the issue up nicely in an article he wrote for The Guardian: “The ISPs say they only want to get paid for the use of their service, but the problem is, they’re already getting paid. You pay your Internet bill every month. Netflix, Google, Yahoo, the Guardian and Boing Boing all pay their Internet bills every month. The ISPs aren’t seeking to get paid, they’re seeking to get paid twice: once by you, and a second time because you are now their hostage and the companies you want to do business with have to get through them to get to you.”
It is not always easy to see exactly how power is allocated and asserts itself on the Internet. We can chalk this up to the Pollyannaish belief that power simply doesn’t exist on the Internet, the commonly held stance that it is open and accessible to all, a completely democratic sphere of interaction. Critics have rightly and nobly begun to debunk this myth. This recent move by the FCC, though, is as much of a smoking gun as we’re going to get. It is another clear example of how corporations are wielding an inordinate amount of influence in Washington, entrenching us further and further into an alarming status quo.
It has been Tin House’s great privilege and honor to participate in our culture as an independent magazine and books publisher. We fear that these new regulations might affect our ability to do that successfully. Realizing the Internet’s early promise to be a truly democratic place, an agora where all voices are not only welcome, but heard, begins with this issue of network neutrality. The fight starts here. Let your representatives know that you don’t want to have to look back on these as the good old days of the Internet, that its best days are yet to come.