Restoring Net Neutrality
By Hazel Henderson
Who owns the internet? The answer in the USA is “We all do”! The internet research and invention was paid for by US taxpayers and then turned over to the private sector, becoming the basic platform today for our entire economy and society! The same pattern of public and private ownership are intrinsic in our mixed economy, and such issues recur, as with radio and television as I describe in “MEDIOCRACY 2.0: CORPORATE OWNERSHIP CHALLENGING FREE SPEECH”.
Now Trump-appointed FCC Chair Ajit Pai, a former Verizon executive has stirred up a new tsunami of grassroots opposition to corporate power. Pai’s narrow vote on December 14 undoes the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order placing the internet under its Title 2 rules as a “common carrier”. This assured that the internet, now the vital infrastructure undergirding our entire society would remain an open, level playing-field for all users, regardless of power, influence, size, money, profit or special interest motives of the dominant internet service providers (ISPs), like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and others wanting to charge higher prices for faster access. Hence the term: internet neutrality and with over 80% of Americans in favor of keeping it.
Congress has the ability within 60 days to overturn this FCC vote. Thus, net neutrality can be restored. The Senate is planning a vote to undo the FCC’s vote, with all Democrats in favor and only 2 Republicans needed to win. Senator Susan Collins of Maine has already come out against FCC Chair Pai’s vote and incoming Democrat Senator Doug Jones of Alabama will take his seat in January. Only a simple majority of 50 votes is needed to restore net neutrality under this Congressional Review Act (CRA).
Our global online multi-media enterprise, Ethical Markets Media Certified B. Corporation fully supports this effort to restore net neutrality. Since we rely on fast adequate broadband for our global videocast presentations and TV series, we have been hampered by the local duopoly of Comcast and AT&T in our region of Florida. Thus, to maintain fast internet service, we had to install our own transmission system on our roof from an independent provider---just to stay in business. Many other small online businesses are less fortunate and lobby Congress along with many school districts and public services for their students, customers and citizens’ needs in the many underserved rural and urban zip codes deemed “unprofitable” by the big ISPs.
As Congress returns in January 2018 any consideration of the long-awaited infrastructure bill to repair our crumbling bridges, dams and rail services must include broadband and internet access for all, as vital to every sector of our US economy and society, as well as national security of our electoral systems. As pointed out by Alexander Klimberg in The Darkening Web (2017), the USA lags behind many OECD countries in both internet "infostructure", access and affordability. Furthermore, the United Nations (UN) agency: the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is now a battleground for the future of the internet, which the USA sees as an open, neutral platform versus the Russian and Chinese view that it is a new weapon for propaganda, controlling domestic populations and for cyber warfare. Thus, as with all other issues, the USA is a global player whatever the “America Firsters” and nativist nationalists think. We humans have always been a global species, since we migrated out of Africa and across the Bering Strait from Asia to the Americas.
Thus, our domestic “net neutrality" must be seen is this larger global context. The grassroots globalists, including the World Social Forum, founded in Brazil in 2000, after the "Battle of Seattle" against the dictates of the World Trade Organization (WTO), has spawned the Internet Social Forum (ISF), in which Ethical Markets participates. ISF coordinates academics, NGOs and their aspirations for a global “infostructure” and so the internet can remain the world’s open forum to share knowledge, education, ideas, innovation, people-to-people exchanges ---beyond commercialism, advertising and profit-making.
We have seen the shortcomings of today’s giant social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Google, YouTube and others where advertising and targeted marketing revenues overtook their stated role as open public forums, news aggregators and social media. Since the Congressional hearings in 2017, these huge companies are now held accountable for their content and lax oversight of their algorithms. These permit terrorists, bombmakers, hate speech, white supremacists, racism, misogyny, as well as Russian KGB-trained hackers to exploit our divisions, infiltrate our political processes with “fake news” supporting the Trump campaign and damaging Putin’s foe, Hillary Clinton.
So, as we join forces to restore net neutrality in the USA, let’s look more deeply at these tech giants’ hugely profitable advertising -driven business models. They still claim to be neutral public forums, but how can this be squared with their profit models and advertisers and marketing goals? Not surprisingly, the new calls are for regulation as news providers and, for example, to require that they conform to all other media in disclosing the funders and sponsors of all their political ads, as well as transparency in how they target audiences both for politicians and marketers. Beyond this urgent reform as our 2018 mid-term elections loom, many are calling for these tech titans to be regulated as public utilities, as a vital part of our national infrastructure and security.
Even deeper design reforms are needed as broadband -for- all is finally extended, similar to what is already available in those cities which own and operate their own municipal networks, such as Chattanooga, Tennessee, a world class model with 10 gigabit uploads and downloads for all its citizens, as discussed in our TV show "The Future of the Internet". The Pew Research Center is conducting a survey “Future of the Internet: Impact on Well-being”, contact their Lee Rainee to participate email@example.com. We at Ethical Markets also support the creative proposals of our friends at the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) and their founder David Morris, who comments on the Chattanooga success and that of Wilson, North Carolina and its municipally-owned broadband network offering much lower prices than the incumbent telecoms. (www.ilsr.org)
Morris also warns that at the bidding of these telecom giants, Tennessee and North Carolina passed state laws prohibiting their cities from providing such municipal broadband to their neighbors along with their electrical services! Chattanooga and Wilson both petitioned the FCC to overturn these state laws. In 2015, the FCC did so, under former Chairman Thomas Wheeler a consumer advocate, but this was over-ruled by the federal appeals court in 2016.
Thus, we agreed with Morris and ILSR that “the only surefire strategy to regain control of this vital underpinning of modern societies is for us to own these broadband networks “(www.ilsr.org). ILSR’s research finds that 150 cities have citywide fiber or cable networks and another 350 cities have fiber networks that serve primarily public agencies and institutions. Over 100 of these communities offer speeds of at least 1 gigabit per second. Furthermore some 2-3 million people currently can access high speed broadband from some 300 rural or electric cooperatives. In 2012, the UN Year of Cooperatives, found that worldwide, cooperatives employ more people than all the profit-making corporations combined (www.un.org).
We agree with Morris and ILSR that such public ownership can be indirect, through local governments, or direct through cooperatives. Happily, ILSR also reports that communities are embracing both strategies. We do too, as well as supporting Congress with its CRA to over-rule the FCC, and opposing Congressmember Marsha Blackburn’s diversionary “trojan horse” bill pushed by incumbent ISPs who have given her some $600,000 in campaign funds. Blackburn also sponsored the 2017 bill to kill privacy rules by allowing ISPs to sell their users’ information to advertisers.
So, let’s all join the winning coalition in the USA, also supported by World Wide Web founder Tim Berners Lee and restore net neutrality!