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Verizon and the Death of the Internet

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From Down With Tyranny


n Portugal, with no net neutrality, internet providers are starting to split the Internet into 'packages' -- so much for email service, so much for social media, and so on. You don't buy the service, you don't get access
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There are two stories here, one about net neutrality -- which Trump's FCC is about to terminate -- and one about a corruption of the process by which the FCC arrives at that decision.

About net neutrality itself, consider an analogy. Should companies that control the telephone wires control (a) who gets to use them, and (b) what is allowed to be talked about? In the U.S. a long time ago, the answer was no. Telephone wires were declared "common carriers" in the same way that roads are common carriers -- a resource that should be open and available to all.

The same with the transmission lines and pathways that carry the Internet, or so the thinking goes. For most of its life, the Internet was treated like a utility, and Internet "wiring" was treated like a common carrier. That made sense and happened almost automatically, since early Internet traffic was carried by phone wires (via modems and DSL), to which established common carrier rules already applied.

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In short, in the early days, the Internet was treated the same way the phone system was treated -- like a public utility whose transmission lines were mandated to remain open to anyone who wants to use them.

The Internet, Big Money and Political Speech

Then three things happened.

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First, "ecommerce" grew, becoming a sizeable percentage of both Internet traffic and company profit. The Internet wasn't just about communication, it was about Money, not just for large existing companies. Dedicated ecommerce giants were created -- Amazon, for example, and Netflix. The people who love money more than anything now had a stake in how the Internet was treated under the law. Meaning, they had a stake in making sure their Internet traffic was special, privileged.

Second, Internet traffic spread from phone lines to wired coax and fiber optic cable networks (Comcast, Time Warner) and wireless channels like satellite transmission (DirecTV). Were cable and satellite systems considered "common carriers" under the law? No, and it made no original sense to consider them so, since traffic on those channels was typically one-way, from the company to the customer, and never in the other direction. Internet traffic, of course, changed all that, turning cable lines and satellite transmissions into virtual common carriers, even though they weren't considered as such under FCC regulations.

Finally, the Internet became an organizing tool for opponents, not just of Big Money, but of what I would broadly call "rule by the rich" -- which includes, among other things, the establishments of both political parties. It's the Internet that allows dissidents all around the world to organize resistance to powerful elites, from Cairo to Beijing to Washington D.C. The world of power hates the Internet, and works in every way it can to subvert it.

All three of these changes made the Internet vulnerable to perversion no matter which party was in power, and open Internet, or net neutrality, advocates have been fighting ever since to keep the Internet as we now understand it open and free, which was always its developers' original intention.

The FCC and the Open Internet

President Obama's FCC looked for a while like it would write rules that benefited the wealthy, since his choice for FCC chair, Tom Wheeler, had ties strong to the industry. Surprisingly, though, the Wheeler-led FCC preserved net neutrality -- the open Internet as we know it today.

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Trump's FCC chair is also an industry insider, Ajit Pai, and this time the threat to net neutrality is almost certain to be realized.

"The Federal Communications Commission took aim at a signature Obama-era regulation Tuesday, unveiling a plan that would give Internet providers broad powers to determine what websites and online services their customers see and use.

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A writer who contributes to a number of publications, including digby's Hullabaloo, Down With Tyranny, Naked Capitalism, Truthout and Alternet.

On Twitter — @Gaius_Publius

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