“Today is a great day for consumers, for innovation and for freedom.” That is what Commissioner Brendan Carr of the Federal Communications Commission said Thursday as he voted to strip net neutrality protections.
Whenever people tell me that we are on the verge of new, undiscovered freedom for consumers, I always feel a little nervous. “Unprecedented freedom for consumers” is usually what people call it right before placing rabid hedgehogs in the stocking stuffer display. Before, you only had the choice of things you wanted that would make appropriate gifts. Now, you might also get a rabid hedgehog! What a day this is for the consumer.
I’m sorry, all I have are bad analogies that will not cheer us in the face of this news. But it is bad news.
“The internet has functioned without net neutrality rules far longer than with them,” said FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. “This decision will not break the internet.” (Also, O’Rielly was annoyed that certain people who will remain nameless had used the internet to say that he looked like a potato, but I am sure this did not factor in his decision. He may have wanted to throttle them, but not their internet service, surely.) O’Rielly points out that internet service providers such as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s former employer, Verizon, say these restrictions are strangling their ability to grow and innovate, and we so want to unleash them to innovate.
To O’Rielly’s point that, for years, there were no such restrictions, and the internet blossomed and grew, consider the following analogy:
It may not be technically illegal to bring a bear into a maternity ward, but we have, I think, started to live our lives with the expectation that nobody will do this. So if we put forth a rule saying, just so we’re clear, No Bears in the Maternity Ward, I would not expect anyone to complain that this was stifling innovation. In fact, if someone said “Hey, let’s get rid of that rule about not bringing bears into hospitals so we can restore the wonderful, competitive environment we had before,” I would wonder, “What exactly are you PLANNING that you need us to get rid of this relatively basic protection?”
(The good news is that, according to the FCC, the free market frowns on people releasing large numbers of bears into hospitals, so it probably will not happen. Even if people are lobbying hard to get rid of the No Bears in the Maternity Ward rule. So we can rest easy, in our hospitals, with the steak on our pillow — was there always steak? Lord, this is terrifying.)
“The only future to fear is the one we never discover because we gave up on the approach that already has brought us so far,” as Pai reassured us. This is also why we cannot ever regulate firearms. Besides, think of the consumer, hungry for more options. Now, he has the option of getting worse service unless he pays more money, an option he did not (well, legally) have before! Woohoo.
Congress can still fix this, I start to type, before having to stop in order to double over with hysterical laughter that swiftly turns into tears.
On the bright side, Pai made this video, either to lift our spirits or to make us want to leave the internet forever. In it, he points out that with the new rules, nothing will change for you goofballs online— you can still Instagram food and do the Harlem Shake, and enjoy your favorite memes. Ha, that is all the Internet is for, dumb things! It is not a portal to all information in the world and the place where the vast majority of communication lives, access to which is basically fundamental to modern life.
Without recourse to bear analogies, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel made this point: “Our existing net neutrality policies … are wildly popular.” With the new rules, internet service providers “will have the power to block websites, throttle services and censor online content. They will have the right to discriminate.” Also, “the FCC’s own data shows that our broadband markets are not competitive … so if your broadband provider is blocking websites, you have no recourse.” In conclusion, “this is not good.”
Not good? Today is a great day for the consumer. Before, we had the option to have recourse, but now, thanks to the FCC’s prompt action, we have the new exciting option of having NO OPTIONS OR RECOURSE!
“The sky is not falling, consumers will remain protected, and the internet will continue to thrive,” said Chairman Pai. Well, I’m reassured.
Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter @petridishes.