With Both Speech and Speed, Money Talks

Beatrice Edwards Posted by Beatrice Edwards.

Beatrice Edwards is the executive director of the Government Accountability Project (GAP) in Washington, D.C. She works with whistleblowers from government, corporations, and international financial institutions on issues of illegality, abuse, and corruption.


With Both Speech and Speed, Money Talks

Digital Delight

by Beatrice Edwards, Executive Director of the Government Accountability Project, a non-profit representing whistleblowers in Washington D.C. and the author of The Rise of the American Corporate Security State: Six Reasons to Be Afraid.

If the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has its way this week, corporations will soon pay big bucks for premium access to the Internet and enjoy a new fast lane for their communications. Meanwhile, the rest of us will grow old watching that little circle go ‘round, waiting for data downloads. These new FCC rules will bring on what I call Phase II of the (Un)Free Speech Movement in the United States. Phase I began four years ago with the Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission ruling of the Supreme Court. In that decision, the Justices basically decreed that corporations are people and their money is speech.

Now the FCC says money is also speed. Or, more to the point, money is speedy speech. On May 15th, Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman, will present new rules on Internet access that will allow service providers like Comcast, Verizon and TimeWarner to provide super-speedy transmission to those who can afford it.

Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.

Thanks to the Court, more wealth already buys more political words and air time, and soon it will buy bandwidth too. When you put that together, the prosperous player can say more, and more loudly. And this means that unfunded players say less. For example, the pay-to-play provider can block out content it deems unflattering or inconvenient, condemning the offending message to the slow lane so that it arrives late or not at all. Whatever the slower speaker can say, the speedier one can shout down and talk over with higher volume and velocity.

The beneficiaries of the new rules will be, of course, affluent corporations and the fortunate few who own them. Until now, all of us have had access to the same quality of communications services – just as we all had the same access to postal services. But the proposed FCC rules about to differentiate us will change this by setting up a two-tier, two-speed internet. You and I can cook supper and walk the dog while waiting for Yahoo to tell us what’s trending now, but Amazon can shoot an e-book over the line in seconds. If you’re the e-book buyer, of course, Amazon will oblige you to pay just a bit more for your purchase.

This was, of course, to be expected in increasingly stratified America. The FCC rules will simply mean the end of net neutrality, introducing into Internet communications the same economic inequality that so grotesquely distorts the rest of American life.

At rush hour, most of us sit steaming in our bumper-to-bumper Ford Fiestas, lurching a few feet forward every minute or so, as the gleaming Beamers shoot past us on virtually vacant parallel toll roads.

Our children go to dilapidating schools where underpaid teachers scrounge for tattered textbooks and Sharpies, while the heirs of the privileged do their work on iPads in the cushy private classrooms their parents had built for them.

Or, as our eternal election cycles churn along, you and I can herd ourselves off to the polls to choose between Bozo and Bonzo—who have already been paid to obey the well-to-do who have funneled millions into their elections. (For without those millions, how could they access those speedy Internet pipelines…)

Of course, we’ve always had to contend with some degree of this differential opportunity: the rich play golf on manicured lawns while the poor play basketball on blacktops. That’s just how it is. We accept that, and we’re not suggesting that everyone live in Stalinist apartment blocks and work in drone-like jobs assigned at birth.

There has to be a middle ground, though, where the infrastructure of opportunity is sort of equal for all of us. Roads and schools? They should be pretty much the same for everybody--except when the well to do buy exceptions for their cars and kids. But the Internet? Until now my First Amendment electrons and Koch Industries’ were created equal and traveled the same speed. Let’s keep it that way.

by Beatrice Edwards, Executive Director of the Government Accountability Project, a non-profit representing whistleblowers in Washington D.C. and the author of The Rise of the American Corporate Security State: Six Reasons to Be Afraid.

If the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has its way this week, corporations will soon pay big bucks for premium access to the Internet and enjoy a new fast lane for their communications. Meanwhile, the rest of us will grow old watching that little circle go ‘round, waiting for data downloads. These new FCC rules will bring on what I call Phase II of the (Un)Free Speech Movement in the United States. Phase I began four years ago with the Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission ruling of the Supreme Court. In that decision, the Justices basically decreed that corporations are people and their money is speech.

Now the FCC says money is also speed. Or, more to the point, money is speedy speech. On May 15th, Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman, will present new rules on Internet access that will allow service providers like Comcast, Verizon and TimeWarner to provide super-speedy transmission to those who can afford it.

Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.

Thanks to the Court, more wealth already buys more political words and air time, and soon it will buy bandwidth too. When you put that together, the prosperous player can say more, and more loudly. And this means that unfunded players say less. For example, the pay-to-play provider can block out content it deems unflattering or inconvenient, condemning the offending message to the slow lane so that it arrives late or not at all. Whatever the slower speaker can say, the speedier one can shout down and talk over with higher volume and velocity.

The beneficiaries of the new rules will be, of course, affluent corporations and the fortunate few who own them. Until now, all of us have had access to the same quality of communications services – just as we all had the same access to postal services. But the proposed FCC rules about to differentiate us will change this by setting up a two-tier, two-speed internet. You and I can cook supper and walk the dog while waiting for Yahoo to tell us what’s trending now, but Amazon can shoot an e-book over the line in seconds. If you’re the e-book buyer, of course, Amazon will oblige you to pay just a bit more for your purchase.

This was, of course, to be expected in increasingly stratified America. The FCC rules will simply mean the end of net neutrality, introducing into Internet communications the same economic inequality that so grotesquely distorts the rest of American life.

At rush hour, most of us sit steaming in our bumper-to-bumper Ford Fiestas, lurching a few feet forward every minute or so, as the gleaming Beamers shoot past us on virtually vacant parallel toll roads.

Our children go to dilapidating schools where underpaid teachers scrounge for tattered textbooks and Sharpies, while the heirs of the privileged do their work on iPads in the cushy private classrooms their parents had built for them.

Or, as our eternal election cycles churn along, you and I can herd ourselves off to the polls to choose between Bozo and Bonzo—who have already been paid to obey the well-to-do who have funneled millions into their elections. (For without those millions, how could they access those speedy Internet pipelines…)

Of course, we’ve always had to contend with some degree of this differential opportunity: the rich play golf on manicured lawns while the poor play basketball on blacktops. That’s just how it is. We accept that, and we’re not suggesting that everyone live in Stalinist apartment blocks and work in drone-like jobs assigned at birth.

There has to be a middle ground, though, where the infrastructure of opportunity is sort of equal for all of us. Roads and schools? They should be pretty much the same for everybody--except when the well to do buy exceptions for their cars and kids. But the Internet? Until now my First Amendment electrons and Koch Industries’ were created equal and traveled the same speed. Let’s keep it that way.