Internet neutrality or the fight to avoid an economic, Orwellian dystopia.

L’autre côté de l’Atlantique est en émoi…ain’t it, though?

Back from holidays and already I am being told emotions are running high on the other side of the Atlantic prior to the upcoming decision regarding Internet neutrality. It’s an issue we don’t have…yet, in Europe for things are done differently. That was my understanding of the problem when I encountered it the first time on YouTube and my first reflex: we don’t have it here, sweet old Europe.

From what I have been hearing and reading, the Internet providers want to be able to decide what content should be completely and utterly available and what should be limited in speed, space and what should be put behind a toll to be accessible. Some people say it is to protect children because obviously the “only thing that will be blocked” is anything paedophilia, and limited is extreme porn.

Tempting but why don’t we have the same here then? And why are major Internet websites up in arms? Why are Youtubers campaigning? Why are Tumblr, Yahoo, Google et al trying to convince us that it will be a very bad decision? Are they all really defending paedophilia and extreme porn? Reductive I feel, but of course it is the first argument raised, shouted and thrown at the face of every opponent by these Internet providers.

From what I have been reading more carefully, and the reason why we don’t have the debate here, is the nature of these very providers. In Europe, if you want to access the Internet, you call an telecommunication company like Orange (formerly France Telecom), T-mobile, Free, BT or Talk Talk. They are companies dealing with telecommunications. Some of them like Sky are also television and media companies and some of them will belong to bigger media companies (like Bouygues Telecome who owns TF1 and produces films) but they are few and far between. In the US, however, if you want the Internet, you will go and ask Time Warner for instance. I thought I misunderstood when I heard an American Youtuber mentioning his Internet provider so I asked a friend of mine living over there. She confirmed that it is quite the normality for a big film corporation to also be an Internet provider.

What she also explained was that, behind the wishful thinking of blocking nasty content, they are very annoyed with the rise of Internet-based media like Youtube or Netfix used by the younger generation and spreading fast to more and more users, therefore diverting their potential customers away from traditional TV and cinema where these companies do most of their business. The problem is that the bridges between the entertainment industry and the media industry were built before they could do it themselves, this via the Internet. It went too far too quickly for them, they did not foresee this and they are trying to do some damage control by gaining access to the what they think is the source of their problem: the Internet, the land where media and entertainment merge with the word “free”, in all it meanings.

If the law passes, Time Warner would be able to put some kind of speed toll on Youtube or Netfix, whilst making their own content (films, shows they produce) very easy to watch, free and high speed. They can easily make their customers request and pay for some completely neutral content to be unblocked on their account. Anything can be off limits if it doesn’t serve the purpose of the company, which is to make profits above all. I know I sound like a communist but the general assemblies where ever-growing results must be announced in front of shareholders are not the place to talk about the weather and what the company can selflessly do to save the poor children of Africa…It’s all about the money and how to make more.

Now, I don’t know what it means for us Europeans. In the UK, I know what it means, yes. If the law passes, two weeks later, it is rushed through Westminster.

The question raised in the US by every opponent is of course to know to what extent their life will be made impossible and one-sided by these companies seeking control of the Internet. It’s not just about movies or downloading porn, it’s about accessing information, being able to express yourself freely and have normal access to the everyday things we have been accustomed to do. What if the next CEO of Time Warner is a homophobic, sexist, Republican? Will Time Warner allow its customers to access anything LGBT-related in any way, shape or form? Will people like me be able to write about feminists issue without being blocked at the last minute by their Internet provider and told they are breaking the rules thus cannot upload anything? Will left-wing newspapers be forced to censor themselves in order to avoid being blocked by their provider? Will people be able to access articles, information that criticises Time Warner? Will people be able to access neutral, genuine, varied information about their town, city, countries, the world or will it be filtered through the cable?

“You cannot access these articles that say the war in Iraq has been killing more than 500,000 people because we don’t agree with it and we think you should not as well.”

What if one these companies decide to create a banking branch? A supermarket branch? Will their customers using Internet banking with another bank be able to access their accounts without the whole thing taking hours? Will people be able to shop on the Internet to a different (cheaper, better or whatever supermarket) without having to restart four times before the speed is so slow that it fails everytime they try to save their cart?

There is a genuine worry, the practical and ethical worries. What I don’t understand is that within the arguments used by the opponents of this law, no one ever mentions the double standard. I know American are very bashful and sometimes it feels like they would not even criticise their country on the day of being unlawfully executed but is everyone that blind?

The US are parading the whole world pointing its finger, naming and shaming every country where the government is restricting access to the Internet for whatever reason. This is “anti-democratic”, it’s “authoritarian”, it’s “1984 again”, it’s “betraying their population” and first and foremost, it’s ridiculous because it is inapplicable. When the Chinese government blocks access to Google , when Iran cracks down on social media used by the young dissidents, when Russia blocks some content, the US are up in arms denouncing dictatorships and brandishing its fist in the defence of all oppressed. However, when private companies are openly trying to reduce access to the Internet, it’s fine, it’s a fair democratic process. They even have endless arguments to defend every bit of it.

Is it because I am getting older and am becoming more aware or are they really getting completely insane?

My mother always says that some people are always quick to spot the lash in someone’s eye but cannot see the beam in their own. That is not beam the US have anymore but a fully-grown redwood tree.

It’s the double standards that drive me up the wall, like the childless Pope saying that not having children is selfish. When politics is involved, it’s a shame! When economics is involved, it’s perfectly acceptable. The message the US are sending to the world is that, if you want to control access to the Internet, do not do it as a government. It’s 1984! It is an attack on democracy and Washington, which will ipso facto be  your enemy.

If you wish to control the Internet access to millions, its content, its message, be a private company, abuse the democratic system, make yourself a saviour or even just justify it through the economics. Say it’s about money. Say it’s about survival, that jobs are at stake and it’s only fair game in the capitalistic jungle. Washington will grant you its time and efforts.

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