Stormy Weather Ahead 

Lord knows, it's hard to keep up these days. There's an information overload from our information overlords. So much distraction, so little time to process change before more change happens. Mostly forgotten in all the daily chaos coming out of Washington, D.C., is the mid-February repeal of net neutrality by Ajit Pai, the Trump-appointed head of the Federal Communications Commission.

Net neutrality rules instituted during the Obama administration basically classified high-speed internet as a public utility, meaning all broadband consumers have equal access to all content from the internet — and at the same access speed. It's similar in concept to MLGW, which, as a public utility, can't charge more for water usage for some customers than others. Nor can it decide to provide electricity only to certain neighborhoods, based on profitability concerns. When it comes to broadband providers, all the rules are about to change.

The repeal of net neutrality is another example of the Trump administration's push to privatize pretty much everything, including our public institutions and properties. They've opened up thousands of acres in national monument lands to oil and timber companies. They're pushing to allow offshore drilling in sensitive coastal waters. They've incentivized for-profit prison systems, turning them into a mega-billion-dollar industry.

And now they're coming for your porn.

Now, that probably got your attention, but it's true: Repealing net neutrality means that high-speed internet companies like Comcast, AT&T, and others will be allowed to block or throttle web traffic or offer priority to certain websites and services. Essentially, the providers can charge you different rates for specific content, based on profitability. And what's more profitable than porn? On the internet? Literally nothing.

Even more troubling, the net neutrality repeal also allows for increased meddling from state legislative bodies. Which is where the porn issue is likely to, er, arise. Rhode Island legislators, for example, have proposed a law, contingent on the implementation of the repeal of net neutrality, that would require content providers to block most "adult content." In order to visit their friendly neighborhood PornHub, Rhode Islanders will be required to request in writing that they want their broadband provider to disable the state-imposed block. They'll have to present identification verifying they are 18 and acknowledge receiving a written warning regarding the "potential danger" of deactivating the content block. And they'll be required to pay a $20 "digital access fee."

In short, if this bill passes, the state of Rhode Island would charge residents to view adult content and create a registry of those who've paid to do so. And this is in Rhode Island, one of the bluest states in the country! Just imagine what our gun-loving, non-fun-loving, evangelical Nashville Hillbillies will come up with. They don't want a gun registry, but they'll sure as hell want to know if you like to watch Busty Milfs on Broadway.

In fact, 44 states are preparing one sort of legislation or another to deal with the consequences of net neutrality repeal. The possibilities are mind-boggling. Providers could charge extra for to you to watch presidential debates or the Oscars or the Super Bowl. Political content could be amplified or throttled, based on profitability or a corporation's preferences.

Most broadband providers have a monopoly already, and they have insatiable stockholders to please and profit margins to enhance. Throw a bunch of ideologues from various legislatures into the mix and what could go wrong? Better to ask, "What won't go wrong?"

The good news is that dozens of lawsuits against net neutrality repeal have already been filed by states and by private companies. A recent New York Times story reports that there may be enough votes in the Senate to repeal it, but that a House majority still supports the FCC rollback. It's expected that the various battles over net neutrality could stave off implementation for as much as a year,

It's easy to lose track of everything that's being sold off to the highest bidder with so many other distractions grabbing our attention, but it's important to keep our focus on the real issues. If you can't do it for yourself, do it for Stormy Daniels.

Bruce VanWyngarden
brucev@memphisflyer.com

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