NEUTERING NET NEUTRALITY?
Net neutrality’s the issue, and the satirists defend it
Against the corporations who are lobbying to end it.
Without new regulations, then just around the corner
You could be at the mercy of Comcast or Time Warner.
Net neutrality – the principle that all data on the Internet should be treated equally without differential charges – has become a highly charged political issue. And despite its arcane and highly technical content it has also been a frequent topic of popular satirists. There are two reasons for this. First, it is all about the media in which they live. And second, they see it as a perfect illustration of one of their favorite themes: giant corporations versus the public interest.
So in November 2014, John Oliver devoted one of his weekly 30-minuted HBO shows to net neutrality. “Oh my god” he said, “ that is the most boring thing I’ve ever seen! That is boring even by C-Span standards”. But this was followed by: “If you want to do something evil, just put it inside something boring.” He then launched into a comic but nonetheless furious onslaught on the pressure by major corporations to undermine net neutrality, aiming particularly at their demand to be able to charge more for fast online lanes.
All this was in the context of the Federal Communications Commission’s review of proposals for new Internet regulations, and Oliver urged his viewers: “We need you to get out there and for once in your lives, focus beyond your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction. Seize your moment!”
They seized it. Members of his regular audience of four million, plus viewers on YouTube, inundated the FCC website, and an agency internal email asked: “Who knew NN (net neutrality) would be fodder for comedy”?
Actually, they should have known earlier. Back in March 2010 Jon Stewart had leapt on the issue, provoked by John McCain’s sponsoring the “Internet Freedom Act” of 2009 whose title, said Stewart, reminded him of George Bush’s “Clear Skies Act” which gutted environmental regulations. And Stewart was not surprised to discover that McCain was the leading recipient of donations from the telecom industry, which was fighting the prospect of regulations that would sustain net neutrality.
And in In January 2014 Stephen Colbert picked up the baton after an appeals court decision seemed to undermine net neutrality. In his role as a right-wing bloviator he declared that “Like all Americans I love my cable company”. He was impressed with their repeated claims that regulation would inhibit a great outburst of “innovations”; and insisted that they had a right to impose extra charges for providing higher speeds. After all, in America “shouldn’t rich people get better things?”
Nor was satire on net neutrality limited to Jon Stewart and his protégés. In 2013 filmmaker Gena Konstantinakos produced a 30-minute documentary “The Internet Must Go”, consisting of a fake video featuring a lobbyist working on providing companies special access to the web. And there are cartoons – hundreds of them available by an Goggle click, and most of them defending net neutrality from the corporate attacks. Among them:
Uncle Sam being throttled by a corporate snake; Uncle Same splattered, along with “free speech” on a railroad track by the media corporation locomotive; a net neutrality wall being smashed by a corporate tank; a cable companies’ net about to fall on consumers as they wonder “what the end of net neutrality means to us”; a Comcast Frankenstein trampling through Washington.
How much impact this wave of support for the concept will have on the FCC we will soon discover. Supporters of the concept may be encouraged by the fact that the FCC chair was an Obama appointee, and Obama has now come out in support of net neutrality. On the other hand, the FCC chair was previously a venture capitalist and lobbyist for the cable industry.
The ironies never end.