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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/20/17

Net Neutrality: Will the FCC's Ruling Actually Wake US Up?

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There's nothing like a terrible ruling and a lack of regard for democracy to highlight where we are in this country now. This is the type of ruling to wake citizens from our stupor. I'm referring to the FCC's decision to repeal net neutrality , a blow to democracy--a blow because so many people voiced their support for net neutrality, and Trump's corporate shill in the FCC, Ajit Pai, ignored that support. This may be the slap in the face that finally makes people fight back, regardless of their party affiliation.

The internet and all its accoutrements--every article, every streaming service--these are things people actually care about. This is our free and cheap entertainment, our armchair voice, our (fake or not) news, and our burgeoning shopping center. Apparently it was OK to say a bunch of terrible things about women, spread lies, and encourage Russia's interference in the election. People looked past all of the above to elect Trump. But when you mess with the internet, now it's on. In a poll conducted by University of Maryland's nonpartisan polling organization, Program for Public Consultation and Voice of the People (PPC), 83 percent opposed the FCC's net neutrality ruling. Only 1 out of 5 Republicans supported it.

The Washington Post reported on the poll and was eager to point out its legitimacy. The survey used the same methods as Nielsen uses: PPC selected a random pool of respondents, sent mail, and made phone calls.

Crazily enough, after polls indicated Clinton was going to beat Trump, and then the opposite happened, the frenzied conspiracy theorist in me was quick to ask whether polls mean anything, whether they're indeed legitimate. But unlike that fateful election, in which the idea of common sense didn't make a ton of sense when you had to choose between Clinton and Trump, this issue seems cut and dried, logical. Present most people with a scenario something like, "Would you be happy if you can't view your favorite website because it belongs to a competitor of Comcast?" I think it's safe to say the majority of people wouldn't like that.

Imagine Jack and Jill Trump Voter in the middle of rural America realizing angrily that it's a lot harder to access Breitbart because the man Bannon helped elect put Ajit Pai in a position where he could allow ISPs to throttle speeds from sites that aren't part of major media networks. Imagine, furthermore, how angry Jack and Jill Trump Voter would be once they realize MSNBC gets prioritization because NBC is in bed with Comcast.

This is a convoluted issue. "It'll be sites like The Daily Caller and Breitbart that suffer for their lack of corporate patronage," says The Verge's Nilay Patel. "The knife cuts both ways." Because of this FCC decision, in the next election, Republicans could end up losing folks who were radicalised by a site like Breitbart. It's not outlandish to assume messing with people's internet access is political suicide. That's why Patel's article is titled, "Ajit Pai just handed Republicans a bag of sh*t ."

Ironically, Pai used to be a lawyer for Verizon, and Verizon owns The Huffington Post, which is staffed by staunch Trump critics. Verizon (the largest telecom company in America) and its affiliate, Huff Po, will doubtlessly benefit from a lack of net neutrality. They can buy their way to the fastlane. Oh, and did I mention Pai was appointed FCC commissioner by Obama? Storyline: Trump promotes Obama appointee to head of FCC; Obama appointee ends net neutrality (Pai's was the deciding vote); then, in 2020, decision to end net neutrality ensures Trump doesn't get reelected. How rich.

Yes, Pai's decision may hurt Republicans--primarily it'll hurt Trump. But sadly, repealing net neutrality will hurt small businesses . Steve Benjamins, an entrepreneur who reviews website-building software, reports that about 400 people who visit his site each day decide to build their own website. Many of these visitors are entrepreneurs--small business owners seeking to promote their business online. Safe to say entrepreneurs who use a free website-building app can't afford to pay an ISP for a fastlane onto people's screens.

This ruling could affect people's lives in myriad ways. In 2014, about 5.8 million students were enrolled in online college courses . Since then, the cost of tuition has continued to rise. College is already expensive enough as is, but if colleges have to pay ISPs more so they can achieve the speeds necessary to offer successful online services, tuition fees will go up even more. Young people are already starting to seriously doubt the value of a higher education. Higher tuition will result in fewer people enrolling. And, the less educated people are, the more likely they are to vote for someone like Trump. Pew research shows that in 2016's election, "Two-thirds (67%) of non-college whites backed Trump." In fact, he won with people who don't have a college education by the highest margin we've seen since the '80s.

People probably care about the internet more than they do college. When times get tough and prices rise, the FCC's ruling may very well be just the thing to get more people to rise up in earnest against the Trump administration.


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