Never in the years I’ll followed the media business I’ve seen so much hatred for the FCC – even during the Nipplegate controversy and when former chairman Kevin Martin was running the agency.
But what we saw Thursday may have Trumped everything.
In yet another bitterly partisan divided vote in an agency rivaling the Illinois legislature for being the most dysfunctional and ineffective, the Federal Communications Commission decided 3-2 to eliminate the net neutrality rules, passed in 2015 when the FCC had a 3-2 Democratic majority.
But the Democrats didn’t have the numbers this time, as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his fellow Republican commissioners (Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr) passed to eliminate the rules, over the objections of Democratic commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clayburn.
The move means Internet service providers Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Charter, and others can charge for “fast lanes” so sites and TV shows could load faster, and could charge consumers to use or view websites – the net neutrality rules prohibit such actions. In addition, it takes away the Title II reclassification and eliminates rules against throttling, blocking, and paid prioritization. The ISPs believe the rules were an overreach and stymied innovation and investment (which they could have done anyway – they simply choose not to.)
With the rules gone, the impact on e-commerce could be staggering. Small businesses are worried they could be impacted by being squeezed out by larger companies who could pay for better privileges. Net neutrality provided an even playing field. The absence could also impact the way listeners could download or listen to their music and how viewers would stream TV.
Of note, tech giants Facebook, Twitter, and Netflix all opposed the axing of the rules. But Pai didn’t seem to have any sympathy, even going far as saying social media is a bigger threat to democracy than the absence of net neutrality. Others opposing the change included the Writer’s Guild of America and other Hollywood unions.
Also, Pai went on record dismissing the nearly two million commentators opposing the action saying their voices didn’t matter, meaning he already made up his mind well before the vote – one many groups were trying to postpone. The New York State Attorney General was trying to get the vote delayed because he found proof some of the comments – all for killing net neutrality – were fake.
The fight is far from over. In addition to pro-net neutrality groups, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and sixteen other state AGs plan to take legal action against the FCC over the demise of the rules. Ultimately, this will likely reach the U.S. Supreme Court before this is all over.
Reaction to the elimination of the rules was swift – and maddening. Many lashed out at the FCC – especially those in the music industry, including this tweet from a DJ:
Fuck you FCC. The idea of a tiered internet makes me feel like we're all staying at one big fucking Ramada Inn. #NetNeutality
— 🏆 VALENTINO KHAN 🏆 (@ValentinoKhan) December 14, 2017
Put another way, Internet providers could provide better service based on where you live, impacting users in poor and minority neighborhoods. Already, AT&T has been accused of redlining in poor neighborhoods of Cleveland such as Hough and Glenville. And in much of Detroit – where the poverty rate is 35 percent – is undereserved by the giant ISPs, residents have taken upon themselves to provide their own Internet service.
This isn’t a surprise, given Pai significantly reduced the lifeline program – and nearly eliminated it. Many residents in violence-plagued neighborhoods throughout Chicago depended on the program, mostly in predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods. But Pai could give less than two shits about people of color – even though he’s one himself. I guess he’s been getting advice from Sage Steele, Clarence Thomas, Stacey Dash, and Kenya Moore on how to run the FCC.
And believe it or not, he’s released a music video (see above) – yes, a music video (yeah I know it really isn’t one but should be), explaining why eliminating the net neutrality rules is a good thing and all of us are “stupid.” So while our livelihoods are being impacted by the elimination of net neutrality, Pai is doing his best Steppin’ Fetchit imitation.
These actions tell you (and the uncool video above) why people hate government officials so much, from the soda tax Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle tried to levy on us to former Chicago Public School head Forrest Claypool lying about a lot of stuff – and still supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. I didn’t know ripping an imbecile like President Trump can get you paraded around like a hero – so I guess the “16 shots and a cover up” and the existence of LaQuan McDonald is all a myth despite the obvious video evidence.
We put these people in office to run our government – not become ruthless dictators who run our lives. Rome is burning while your FCC Chairman thinks he’s Robin Thicke in a Blurred Lines video and Rahm parties with Stephen Colbert.
Hopefully one day these buffoons will get what’s coming to them – and hopefully Pai and his buddy Trump will be the first in line.