President Obama is Killing Net Neutrality
I received an e-mail the other day. It was from the Daily Kos. They called upon me to “Thank President Obama for supporting net neutrality.”
I’m not signing.
The President said many times during the 2008 campaign that he was in favor of net neutrality, sometimes with great emphasis.
It is a trite phrase to say “Actions speak louder than words.” I believe the current phrasing is “He can talk the talk but can he walk the walk.”
Yes, Obama said the wonderful words, very important to me, a regular blogger who didn’t want his work placed on the slow lane.
But when it came time for action, he appointed Tom Wheeler as Chairman of the FCC.
Here’s a brief quote from Wikipedia?
Prior to working at the FCC, Wheeler worked as a venture capitalist and lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry, with positions including President of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA).
So, when it came time to put the soaring rhetoric into action, he found not a stalwart defender of the open internet, but an industry lobbyist, the proverbial fox in the chicken house.
Not surprisingly, new rules that allowed for the creation of fast lanes (not to mention enormous profits for the cable giants) were written. And there has been a tremendous outcry among we the people (defined as not well heeled corporate lobbyists) in opposition to those rules.
And the President once again leaps to the defense of net neutrality.
It is possible that having heard the public outcry that the President may actually envisage exerting some pressure to keep the open internet and preserve net neutrality. It may be possible that he can persuade the former industry lobbyist to defend the public interest.
It is possible but I recall the promises from before and I am not optimistic.
Is this a business ethics issue?
Yes, net neutrality is an issue of fairness, that all users be treated equally. But it is also a question of power. The huge cable companies will be able to pick and choose among users who is favored and who is not, like some great medieval king awarding fiefdoms to their followers. It will be one of the greatest transfers of power in the history of the world, power and money beyond the wildest dreams of avarice. A toll road for every message, every magnetic impulse on the information superhighway.
I exaggerate? We have some net neutrality now but when Netflix was negotiating with Comcast for higher speeds they found out who was boss. They were given an object lesson in just how slow things can become for the unfavored. And that’s not the only way, the big internet providers are putting the hammer down.
Who is more important here?
It would be nice to think that democracy could effect this issue, that more than million comments would sway the FCC from its path. But how much power is there in a mass of citizens as opposed to cable operators? Each one generates billions of dollars in profits. Each one has a team of corporate lobbyists and makes lavish campaign contributions. This year Comcast alone has made political contributions of $3,402,202 for the current election cycle and spent $18,810,000 on lobbying last year.
Citizens United has changed the power dynamic. Now corporations can literally bury the voice of the opposition. It’s a form of “corporate” democracy where the disputes are between corporations and the citizens are incidental factors. Net neutrality may be the beginning of the end for effective citizen participation.
I can’t help but feel insignificant in this struggle.
And what’s worse, if the world is changing in this direction, what will become of business ethics? Will we will settle in for a new limited form of business ethics designed to discourage employee theft and absenteeism? Will we discourage whistle blowing as an act of betrayal? Will the tales of Enron and World-com, and the tragedy of Bhopal be written out of our books as unfortunate but understandable aberrations?
This is a critical point in the history of business in the United States and the larger world. I don’t know what’s going to happen.
But I do know net neutrality is important and I know the President isn’t on our side whatever he says.