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The Politicizing of the Internet: The Age-Old Issues Behind Net Neutrality

When Net Neutrality was repealed by the FCC, the outrage caused by the decision was impressive to say the least. People from all over the country vowed to fight for it with a passion and vigor that was almost unheard of, aspects of political life in America that have become commonplace since the election of Donald Trump. As with that particular hot button issue, the debate over Net Neutrality leaves little room for understanding between the two sides. It has become yet another example of how impossible it is becoming for people to get past political ideologies and see the person saying them. In the eyes of the people debating Net Neutrality, it is not even a debate. It is a life or death struggle, with them playing the plucky good guys triumphing against all odds. They view the opposing side as mortal enemies that must be defeated at all costs. It’s a world view that should be more reminiscent of Medieval Europe than 21st Century America.

There are several people in America who see this, and are frankly appalled by it. A perfect example is podcaster and political commentator Dan Carlin, who ascribes to an independent political philosophy that effectively ceased to exist in November 2016. He was forced in late 2017 to admit to his fans and listeners that he cannot continue his political podcast for the foreseeable future, due to his inability to operate in a black and white political world without even the option of a middle ground.

The main point is this: both sides of the Net Neutrality debate is so concerned with fighting, that they have no interest in negotiating. No one wants to really understand the other side; they only want to destroy them. For people who have studied human history, it is not necessarily surprising to see. What is surprising is how history is cruelly repeating herself and people are going along with it like lemmings at a cliff. The secret to ‘winning’ the Net Neutrality debate is through understanding and compromise, two of the things that the United States of America was built on. And without these basic precepts, both sides on the Net Neutrality issue will suffer a horrendous loss, regardless of who actually wins in the end.

The first aspect of this is understanding. From a common sense perspective, understanding the views of the opposing side actually makes it easier to challenge those views. More importantly, it also humanizes the opposing side and puts the debate into a more appropriate line of thinking. The only people who should be acting as if they are in a life or death situation are people who actually are in a life or death situation. Whichever side loses the Net Neutrality issue will not be wiped out in some sort of bloody power play. Looking at Net Neutrality this way should make the people debating it infinitely calmer. The people who support Net Neutrality believe that without it, big business service providers like Verizon and Comcast will take over the internet and scam people with high-speed internet packages and subscription fees just to be able to enjoy Facebook or Netflix. This is a legitimate fear, one based in history.

Anyone who knows the story of American industry after the Civil War can see a parallel in this side of the Net Neutrality debate. When people see Verizon and Comcast in a world without government regulation of the internet, they see the spiritual successors to old industrial companies like Standard Oil and Carnegie Steel, which operated in a world where government did not regulate industry. The result was inhospitable working conditions, unethical business practices, and the ridiculous success of a handful of individuals at the expense of millions of people. Obviously, this is a parallel, not an exact recurring of events, but the point is still clear. Supporters of Net Neutrality fear big business when it is left unchecked, and they have every right to fear it. It is not necessarily true to say that they are closet communists looking for a society made completely equal.

Those who oppose Net Neutrality oppose it because they fear a bloated and intrusive government machine finding yet another way to control the lives of Americans. They see little difference between the government owning the internet and big business owning it. Many would prefer big business because at least that way, there is more likelihood of competition and free trade. That is the most important thing for those who oppose Net Neutrality. The government, they believe, should not be allowed to tell Verizon and Comcast, or even companies like Google, Netflix, and Facebook, how to run their enterprises. There is a similar parallel in America during the FDR presidency. Though the New Deal was undoubtedly helpful in pulling America out of the Great Depression, many conservatives, starting in the late 1930’s and lasting until well after World War II, began to express concerns at how much bigger the executive branch had become as a result of the New Deal. In some cases, the New Deal programs had a hand in telling people what to do in nearly every aspect of their lives. This was helpful during the depression and during wartime, but had grown stale in the boom years of the 1950’s. Just as supporters of Net Neutrality have every right to fear big business; those who oppose it have every right to fear big government.

The point of providing these historical examples is to demonstrate the fact that people fighting on both sides of these issues, including and specifically Net Neutrality, are working from a preconceived foundation. Based on their worldviews, and their own perceptions of history, and countless other factors, they are on the front lines of a long and relatively simple conflict. In America, it could be defined as the conflict between Right and Left, the two sides of our political spectrum. In the world at large, and in the broad stretch of human history, it is the conflict between those who fear change and progress and those who value and embrace it. This is the essence of understanding, not only the debate between Net Neutrality, but almost any other debate or issue in the news today. Without this understanding, we cannot even begin to hope for a solution. In this author’s opinion, it is the only hope for a solution to these issues. However, understanding is only one-half of the needed remedy. After the two sides can come to understand one another, the next step is to attempt to compromise.

There are many who are indeed making this attempt. An article published by Wired a few years ago attempted compromise in a roundabout way. The author, Robert MacMillan, pointed out that trying to say that the internet is neutral at all is a lie, and that Comcast and Verizon still dominate the ISP market. Getting rid of Net Neutrality may indeed raise uncomfortable questions about who controls the content that gets to you, but MacMillan posited the belief that getting rid of Net Neutrality may allow third party ISP’s; ones that do not belong to Verizon or Comcast, to enter the market and provide services for people that the big companies can’t or won’t provide. This will enable competition in a realm that doesn’t have a lot of it; sense Net Neutrality is, in essence, government regulation on big business on the internet.

The point of MacMillan’s article is to demonstrate that the end of Net Neutrality is not the end of the world, and that compromise relating to the regulation and responsible use of the internet is still possible. Indeed it is still possible. It is the opinion of this author that if people simply try harder to engage in dialogue with each other and attempt to pool their thought and knowledge, then not only will Net Neutrality be an easier problem to deal with, but so will countless other issues that plagues our country today. People need to stop fighting, they need to put down their angry protest signs, their feelings of rage and hate, and most importantly, their efforts to dehumanize each other need to stop immediately. Life is often difficult enough without adding on the belief that every man and woman around you is also your enemy. If people take a moment to really see what is going on behind this Net Neutrality debate, then perhaps things will become a little easier for everyone involved. At least, let’s all hope so.