Network Matters

by Mike Apgar | 12/14/2017

Network Matters | A Tribute to SpeakeasyAs I write this, just a few hours ago the vanguard of American citizen’s telecommunications privileges, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), voted to repeal the ground-breaking net neutrality regulations of 2015, a decision that finally categorized ISPs as Title II common carriers. In case you were wondering, that’s the bit that allows the internet to not only work, but actually allow freedom of speech.

Of course, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and all market-dominant service providers resent being made unable to leverage their unfair advantages (as always, successfully exploiting a monopoly generates greater profitability), and so, led by former Verizon corporate attorney and Trump appointee Ajit Pai, today’s events are a reason for them all to celebrate. (One can only imagine what’s happening inside Verizon’s board room at this very moment. Oops! Sorry for conjuring those images!)

I understand that this is considerably disheartening and perhaps somewhat discouraging to those of us who have been in the fight for net neutrality for well over a decade. Everything is up for grabs in the “de-swampification” goals of the current administration and the FCC is no exception. There is a difference between draining the swamp and paving it over with concrete, however. With the internet now aggressively displacing the billions of dollars of revenue involved with radio, television, cable, telephony, advertising, etc., it’s no surprise that it walks amongst the wolves.

It’s important to note, however, a nonpartisan polling organization found that 83% of Americans do not approve of the FCC proposal and strongly support keeping net neutrality in place. For this reason, and the recent announcements of several state Attorneys General to file suits blocking the repeal, I see plenty of reasons to take heart.

Despite this unprecedented narrow-minded attack, a remarkable bipartisan agreement exists regarding net neutrality (if on nothing else!), and it is genuinely possible that new legislation which will better secure the tenets and principles of net neutrality will soon emerge. If and when this happens, you can bet that the result will be to firmly establish the network as one both free and open, a technical and philosophical state that all freedom-loving Americans are due, definitively, and for the long-term. Neither party wants to be on the wrong side of this one. Apparently, sexual deviance, corruption, and incompetence are fine, but not dismantling net neutrality.

It is a remarkable coincidence that this should happen as we were preparing to launch this Speakeasy site in memory of the incredible organization we built together. To the reader who served on the Speakeasy Team, as you well know, there are fewer things that cut closer to our hearts than the concepts and principles underpinning net neutrality.

At the heart of the argument by the FCC is the belief that only through market competition will the best products and services emerge. Chairman Ajit Pai refused to recognize that internet service is not that kind of market and therefore not subject to such market dynamics.

The hard reality is that internet connectivity does not sit for sale on some store shelf. It is categorically unviable for any start-up or even an existing large business to decide to create a new competing service. Instead, the majority of individual Americans and their small businesses have just two choices at best, and often only one.

A further fatal flaw in the FCC’s argument is the fact that in almost all cases one or two of those ISPs currently available to consumers have already engaged in practices inconsistent with net neutrality.

Network Matters | A Tribute to SpeakeasyImportantly, the two dissenting votes on the five-person panel did not take this decision lying down. It was impressive to see them right there in the midst of protestors last week, doing numerous interviews with media and trying their best to expose this decision for what it is: Another massive theft from the treasury of the American people handed over to dominant corporations in the name of profits only.

I have (much) more to say about this decision today, and so much of what happens next is a “devil is in the details” type of conversation to be written about later. At the minimum, it is fair to say that this is a terrible partisan attack on our ability as Americans to communicate with each other as we see fit. Not to mention the precedent this sets for the rest of the world. I encourage you to remain engaged and vigilant regarding these rights.

Gretchen and I have been staunch supporters of net neutrality. We have donated money to non-profits that fight the good fight, but this obviously was not enough after the FCC’s decision today. Our voice was not loud enough.

So the final thing I want to do is offer each of you a way to make a significant contribution to the fight. The Legacy section of the site outlines the grants available to former Speakeasy employees, which can be used for education, business development, and more.

If you wish to direct your grant to Free Press, our partner in the fight for net neutrality, we will further match it ourselves, resulting in a contribution of up to $10,000! Your donation will be recorded in your name and honor the Speakeasy Legacy.