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Hands off whose Internet?

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If you've been following the network neutrality debate, you may have come across a group calling
themselves 'Hands Off Our Internet.' According to their website, these folks claim to be "a nationwide coalition of Internet users united together in the
belief that the Net's phenomenal growth over the past decade stems from the ability of entrepreneurs to expand consumer choices and opportunities without worrying about government regulation." That's some pretty big talk for a shadow organization that actually represents the big telecoms .

I especially love their name, 'Hands off Our Internet' ('HOOI', as in a steaming bunch of 'Hooey'). Considering who these people are, you can really get a glimpse into the mind of the petulant corporate American culture that has zero experience in hearing the word 'no'. I mean, exactly who do you think they mean when they say 'Our' internet? Is it the collective 'We' as in 'We the People'? No, of course not. They mean 'Their' internet, because as big telecom industries they feel a sense of entitlement to run network traffic as they see fit by effectively assuming ownership over your surfing habits.

This is not a syntactical debate about pronoun usage but rather a metaphoric encapsulation of the entire manufactured controversy over net neutrality - it's not about speed per se , it's about whom the internet truly belongs to. Is it the democratically-organized egalitarian entity belonging to We / Us, or is it the new private playground of the big kids who would like Us to keep our greedy, common, bourgeois hands off Their internet.

Go ahead and take a look through the site, you wouldn't believe some of the scare tactics they try to shove down your throat. For example:

This is about how we're going to pay for the next generation Internet, and creating different ways to deliver web content to the home as fast as possible. This is also about whether we want the government to dictate how the next version of the Internet is run before we even get there " Who will pay for the pipes that will deliver the next generation Internet? What is the best way to ensure packets of information get across the Internet in the most efficient manner possible? How will traffic be managed when 100 million movies are being downloaded at any given moment?

I find it fascinating that whenever corporations are forced to act in an egalitarian manner they resort to the 'stifling innovation' argument. Yet it is patently absurd to assume that governmental enforcement of net neutrality or lack thereof will have any marked effect on this hypothetical 'next generation' internet. It will come when it comes, no sooner and no later, and it will be the telecom companies who pay for it or somebody else will swoop in and do it for them. Why? Because there is money to be made and an entire global economy with which to keep pace, that's why.

Assume if you will that net neutrality fails and the big telecoms are allowed to run amok with their plans to create a tiered internet system. With all that extra money, is it more likely that they will reinvest in the infrastructure and create a better product? Or will they do the same thing they do with their Bush tax cuts and buy an extra Porsche or twelve? Besides, do you really want your next-gen internet molded in the vision of telecom corporations or would you rather have one created democratically, even if it takes a few months (at the most) longer?

To take the other side, if net neutrality passes and the big telecoms are forced to keep the internet traffic moving as it already is - in other words, do nothing different than they have been doing from the beginning - do you really think they won't lay the infrastructure for next-gen internet? Of course they will! They are just as much in competition with each other for your patronage and when the technology comes of age they will all battle to be the first to offer enhanced service. And if they act like spoiled brats and follow through with their threats then other companies and investors will seize the opportunity and render the existing telecoms obsolete. I mean, how many wagon wheel companies refused to get into the auto trading business. Adios Antiguos!

The rest of their site is a loose collection of threats and scare tactics. Here are a couple of the more egregious ones:

The inevitable cascade of private litigation (and can anyone seriously argue that there won't be?) will add a whole new level of cost to our Internet usage. The users will pay, and they'll find the cure is far worse than the disease.

"Legal costs will shoot through the roof draining the pockets of everyone involved." And this is the nirvana the regulated neutrality is supposed to bring us?

Who is going to be bringing all of these supposed lawsuits? Why, the big telecoms, that's who! Or rather the consumers who are suing the telecoms for behaving like toddlers. This not-so-thinly veiled threat is simply an affirmation of their win-win strategy: If net neutrality fails, they will make extra money from the larger web entities like Google and Amazon. If it passes, they will make extra money by raising rates on consumers and blaming litigation costs. This is no different than blaming medical malpractice suits for skyrocketing insurance prices - it may sound convincing but is effectively nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

Then they trot out this supposedly spontaneous letter from their collective unions' president:

"The proposed net neutrality bill will result in the unintended consequence of delayed deployment of high-speed networks, with particularly negative impact on underserved communities" " [The president] goes on to say that if this neutrality regulation bill passes Congress, the U.S. "will fall even further behind the rest of the world [in broadband deployment], and our rural and low-income populations will wait even longer to enter the digital age."

Really? So in other words, if you pass net neutrality, you might as well be urinating into the water supply of poor, hungry children in third-world America. Really. You should be ashamed of yourself for not letting the telecoms have their way. Jerk.

Clearly, the big telecoms would like to couch the net-neutrality debate as the first step to governmental regulation of the internet. The reality is quite the opposite. Net neutrality is not about regulating the internet at all, it's about regulating the service providers. Specifically, we're trying to send a message telling them that THEY can't be the ones to regulate it in THEIR favor. In other words, keep your filthy, greedy, covetous, gluttonous, immoral, malevolent, grubby, smutty, ugly, lazy, nasty, vile, venomous, loathsome, despicable, wretched, banal, ill-tempered, foul-intentioned, black-hearted, miserly, petty, sanctimonious hands off MY-MINE-MY Internet!
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Dr. Daverth is an International Relations scholar who writes extensively on global security and postmodern political theory. His daily rants can be found at The Hindsight Factor
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