Democracy’s Death Without Open Communication

F.C.C. Comments Submitted by Jim Hickey in Regard to Docket Number 14-28—Protecting & Promoting the Open Internet

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means

of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.

Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their

own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

So wrote James Madison as he fought for the United States Constitution.

Without doubt, our fourth President’s thinking applies to today’s issue—what should be the nature of the Internet going forward from this moment? The bottom line is simple to state: if we are to survive as a democracy, then more citizen control of media must become the norm, precisely the opposite of what the Federal Communications Commission proposes, with its ‘Fast-Lane’ and ‘Paid Prioritization’ processes more or less sacrosanct.

fcc-seal_rgb_emboss-largeThe rationale for rejecting the F.C.C. approach consist of three elements. The first is historical. The second relates to achieving social and economic justice. The third concerns the political possibilities for democracy versus the increasing likelihood of plutocracy. These represent just a few among many reasons why people should reject the present paradigm and its extension in adopting Internet protocols that guarantee that wealthy corporations own, and dictate access to, what must become more, not less, of a stronghold of people’s control and empowerment, what James Madison termed a sine qua non of popular governance.

Summarizing the historical basis for rejecting ‘Fast Lanes’ and their ilk might include dozens of facts, but the following are definitely critical.

• First, folks should learn about the Radio Act of 1927 and the way that it destroyed community radio in favor of advertiser outlets, meaning that union radio, community radio, people’s radio fell by the wayside, laying the basis for the better part of a century of what journalist Edward Murrow termed “a vast wasteland” in commercial radio and television.

• Second, the establishment of the Federal Radio Commission, which both lay the basis for a ‘revolving door’ between government and media oligopoly and established the bureaucratic underpinnings of what continues to characterize the FCC, is noteworthy.

• Third, the delay in television’s coming to the fore shows how established media empires—in this case in radio—manipulate the media landscape in their favor, technological possibility and social need be damned.

• Fourth, the manner in which the cable television industry evolved, like radio and television, from publicly supported efforts to become completely a realm of finance capital and oligopoly following the Cable Policy Communications Act of 1984 clearly relates to what we are now facing.

• Fifth, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the dispersal to media monopolies of the architecture and governance of the Internet itself serves in many ways as the proximate cause of what we are confronting in the push to institute a ‘pay-to-play’ philosophy in relation to the web.

One might go on, at great length. However, even this briefing ought to give pause to anyone considering support for an end to ‘Net Neutrality.’

Examining the socioeconomic factors that call for opposing all of the coddling of the corporate elite tantamount in ‘Paid Prioritization’ ought to contain such evidence as

• First, folks might note the profound ignorance that characterizes students and young people in the United States, where the ability to articulate a reasonable understanding of history, culture, and politics is worse than in any other ‘industrialized’ nation.

• Second, observers have no choice but to see the causative relations between poverty, powerlessness, and such social ills as unemployment and a lack of access to media, which would inevitably grow worse in a commercialized, bottom-line orientation to everything on the Internet.

• Third, as literally thousands of other commentators have noted, the impetus to innovate and create would suffer enormously in an environment that made access and development largely dependent on the ability to lay out cash for the right to prioritize efforts.

• Fourth, encouraging monopolistic predominance will ultimately destroy the most substantial engine—some would say the only bright spot outside of prisons and the military—for economic progress that has been apparent over the past twenty-five years or more.

• Fifth, not only will increasing inequality unavoidably attach to the skewed rights and access of ‘paid prioritization’ and the like, but also such patterns will guarantee the enlarging of the pool of the poor and benighted.

Once again, such analysis could easily continue. Once more as well, even this short contextualization provides plenty of basis for insisting that ‘Net Neutrality’ expand instead of end.

Considering just a portion of the political reasoning in favor of greater democratic web-governance rather than less, an observer might list various component points.

• First, citizens ought to take account of the fashion in which monopoly and privatization inherently censor grassroots, unfunded, or underfunded efforts to reach out to others, a censorship-in-fact that guarantees that political conversation is outside the capacity of most individuals and many community networks.

• Second, a consequence of ‘Fast Lanes’ and such will be that, even more so than is already the case, only ‘establishment’ narratives and reportage will reach the surface of the web that almost all its users skim for data and news.

• Third, not only will the resources of information and knowledge be vastly more difficult to obtain, but also the capacity to generate funds for local initiatives and collective efforts to improve community welfare will fall catastrophically.

• Fourth, the ability of ‘whistleblowers’ and ‘watchdogs’ to catch and publicize government and corporate corruption and malfeasance will practically disappear.

• Fifth, in the vein of Madison’s reasoning, those who want to participate cannot help but notice that a slower, less robust, more attenuated access to data and analysis and networking will crush citizen and local initiative to heal and expand democratic governance and the hope of equity that, despite all evidence to the contrary, remain dear to the hearts of many Americans.

As before, citizen analysts could continue, but these simple notions not only give plenty of ammunition for eliminating every attack on Net Neutrality but also offer compelling ideas in favor of making such a policy both stronger and more certain.

Unfortunately for those who might find this reasoning compelling, the political ‘facts on the ground’ remain daunting. Oligopolistic financial and industrial interests dominate both the leadership and the grounds for discussion at the FCC and throughout the halls of government. What really is at stake here is whether citizens of the United States, in the words of James Madison, “intend to be their own governors.”

If they truly want and plan to have such a democratic future, then they will have to start doing a lot more than commenting in forums where the deck is already heavily stacked against them. They are going to have to take steps to return the public’s dominion to what has always begun as, and in all but the theory of monopolist enterprise, must forever stay part of the public domain—whether comprised of print media outlets, broadcasting networks, cable franchises, or Internet governance regulations.

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