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This Sure Feels Like the Beginning of the End of Net Neutrality

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Today, Trump’s new FCC chairman went to town on net neutrality and decided that four companies (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Comcast) have a total pass to divide up the internet. Trump’s pick, Ajit Pai, decided not to pursue former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s inquiry into whether or not zero-rating unfairly favored certain companies. Zero-rating is the practice of having some streaming music and video services not count against your data plan. Neutrality advocates warn that such programs might lead to service providers essentially carving up the internet, and in their quadrants they will pick the winners and the losers, which services and sites to incentivize and which to discourage.

Four identical letters went to the four above-mentioned companies today, and the FCC explained their reasoning for dropping the inquiries thus:

These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace. Going forward, the Federal Communications Commission will not focus on denying Americans free data. Instead, we will concentrate on expanding broadband deployment and encouraging innovative service offerings.

Though the way the FCC has chosen to phrase their position may sound good on the face—exploiting the popularity of “free data” with “low-income Americans,” for example—a cursory look at what else the FCC’s done today eliminates any possibility that they actually care about low-income Americans accessing the internet. The FCC also dealt a blow to Lifeline, a program which would’ve granted registered households a $9.95-monthly credit with which to purchase broadband internet at. Nine companies would’ve been able to join in the funds (ba-dum-ch) and had already been approved, but the FCC just revoked their access and might have as many as eight more companies on the chopping block. According to reporting done by the Washington Post:

“The most obvious fact in our society is that high-speed Internet is astronomically expensive for the middle-class and down,” said Gene Kimmelman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. “So in any way limiting the Lifeline program, at this moment in time, exacerbates the digital divide. It doesn’t address it in any positive way.”

And:

By stopping companies such as Kajeet from accessing the Lifeline program, Pai may be signaling his intention to apply more restrictions to the Lifeline program, policy analysts said. One such restriction could be a strict cap on the program’s budget, which is indirectly funded through fees in the bills of telephone customers.

So, nope. It’s got nothing to do with “free data” or healing the divide. It’s got to do with corporations and their now-unimpeded plans to profit off both consumers and content creators, streaming service providers and whoever else they can make a buck off of. The reason we regulate the internet to assure neutrality is so we don’t wind up with a dystopia where a company can buy incentivized speed or priority, thus incentivizing consumers to use one service over another. Should this truly be an indication of the FCC’s direction over the next four years, it will impact independent websites and services as the dystopia expands.

That means websites catering to smaller, less profitable communities (like queers) will be, in my opinion, pretty immediately disincentivized. It could really hurt sites like ours! And if the government follows through on some of Trump’s ideas about how the internet should work (as in, we must close it up, that darn internet!), the actual government aided by giant corporatons could begin communities of resistance, the free press and (once again) queers. Net neutrality is a queer issue. The fact that Verizon isn’t slowing down traffic to our site and speeding it up to, oh, I dunno, Fox News’s coverage of LGBT issues and people because Fox has the money to pay them to, is a product of net neutrality.

In my opinion, today marks the day that they start to dismantle it.