Small Business Attacked by FCC — Internet is in the hands of big business
Death threats. Protests. Rallies. Strong opinions roil around the controversial Federal Communications Commission vote to repeal the Obama administration’s net-neutrality law that protected a free and open Internet. Now, the United Nations has weighed in, saying the vote will silence voices that, without the World Wide Web, never would have been heard.
David Kaye, the U.N.’s counsel on issues involving freedom of speech, said that to maintain the constitutional right in the First Amendment, net neutrality is essential.
“Net neutrality is a really, really important principle from the perspective of ensuring broad access to information by all individuals,” Kaye said less than a week after the Dec. 14, 2017 vote, according to a Reuters article titled “U.N. freedom of speech expert concerned about net neutrality.” “I don’t want to say that tomorrow there will be a huge amount of censorship, but over the long term, combine this with the concentration of media in the United States and in most places around the world, I think we should be worried about the ability of smaller voices that often [find it] harder to get traction in the market.”
Such voices belong to grassroots organizations, startup companies and young entrepreneurs, whose ability to reach audiences locally, regionally, nationally and globally has given them a livelihood and a revenue stream. Their business model does not differ from the business model of a mom-and-pop store that relies on word-of-mouth to generate foot traffic. The word-of-mouth that generates foot traffic is of the online variety, instead.
“Access to small businesses is what helps drive traffic,” states a Polygon article titled “Concerns about net neutrality grow among YouTubers, Twitch personalities (update).” “Most entrepreneurs will tell anyone who listens that if people can’t easily access a shop or are diverted away from it to a bigger chain store, independent, small business is doomed.”
The FCC voted 3-2 – along political-party lines – to do away with the Open Internet Order put into place in 2015. Republican Chairman Ajit Pai was joined by commissioners Brendan Carr and Michael O’Rielly with Democratic commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel dissenting. Their vote enabled the titans of the industry, i.e., AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, to prioritize – and conversely weed out – content. Higher fees will be charged to Internet Service Providers (ISP), for example Facebook, Hulu, Netflix and Twitter, for the privilege of having their content streamed. The ISPs who pony up will operate in the “fast lane.” The ISPs who lack the resources to pay will be “throttled back.”
“Think of it this way: If a tollbooth is suddenly added that prevents people from driving down Main Street, where your business is situated, you’re going to lose a large percentage of customers who would have easily found you before,” according to the Polygon article.
The Internet was literally the great equalizer. The same information, news and offering of ideas – a level playing field – are available to anyone with a computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone. The FCC has taken a giant step backward, caving in the playing field and doing a disservice to the forum. No wonder attorneys general from at least 20 states have lined up to sue the agency.
“The FCC’s vote to rip apart net neutrality is a blow to New York consumers, and to everyone who cares about a free and open internet,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “The FCC just gave Big Telecom an early Christmas present, by giving internet service providers yet another way to put corporate profits over consumers. Today’s rollback will give ISPs new ways to control what we see, what we do, and what we say online. That’s a threat to the free exchange of ideas that’s made the Internet a valuable asset in our democratic process.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey also blasted the FCC.
“With today’s FCC vote, Americans will pay more for the internet and will have fewer options,” Healy said in a statement. “The agency has completely failed to justify this decision and we will be suing to stand up for the free exchange of ideas and to keep the American people in control of internet access.”
The vote impacts every level of society but especially students and teachers, from preschool through graduate school, who have enjoyed more equitable educational opportunities because of the Internet.
“In the world of education, net neutrality is one element of digital equity – the concept that all students should have access to technology, such as devices, software and the Internet, and trained educators to help them navigate these tools,” according to a Baltimore Sun article titled “Net neutrality repeal widens opportunity gap for students.” “Our country has an unfortunate history of inequitable education. Students’ educational opportunities were once limited by the resources that were found within the four walls of their schools. Technology changed all of this. The Internet has benefited teachers and students by providing access to high-quality information, resources and expertise – no matter what tangible resources their schools and communities are able to provide.”