A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR editor and columnist Dr Jared A. Ball
A federal court has put the FCC’s version of “internet neutrality” in question, encouraging corporate forces that would turn the Net into a toll road. But real activists don’t rely on courts and legislatures to achieve social and institutional progress. “Until we return to genuine grassroots and radically political social movement no technology can be used for liberation."
Save the Internet, But Start a Social Movement
by BAR editor and columnist Jared A. Ball, Ph.D.
“We are aggregated into ‘mobs’ to be easily surveyed and marketed to.”
So the United States Court of Appeals ruled recently that the FCC, or Federal Communications Commission, has no jurisdiction to tell the internet and cable giant Comcast what they can or cannot do with their broadband service. This has truly upset the liberal left-wing and many others concerned with the concept of net neutrality, or the principle that internet providers must treat all legal web traffic the same. The concern is that, with help from deep lobbying pockets, telecommunications corporations have been given a green light to further tolls, fees and restrictions which will inhibit the free and equal access we currently enjoy. Further, their concern is that this lack of equal access will stem the tide of progressive media which has been essential to mass mobilization and the ability to “level the playing field” for the poor, oppressed or politically unpopular. But this is why we previously described what should be Our Newton’s Laws, or the laws of technology and revolution, that the latter don’t come from the so-called advance of the former. In fact, quite the opposite.
On the one hand, of course, the FCC would be put in its place. It has never existed to serve the genuine public interest and was once accurately described by a former commissioner to only exist to referee “fights between the wealthy and the super wealthy, the public has nothing to do with it.” On the other hand are the issues the liberal left studiously avoid. These include the fact that currently the internet is far from free or level; the internet was and remains military developed and applied technology; and that until we return to genuine grassroots and radically political social movement no technology can be used for liberation.
“The FCC has never existed to serve the genuine public interest.”
As for the myth of the level playing field we need only look out our windows (or perhaps increasingly lift our tent flaps) to see that all of the issues those on the Left like to point to as being supported by the internet were also created during the era of the internet. That is, if the playing field were indeed actually level the internet mobilizing in defense against these issues would itself be moot. The Jena 6, the earthquake in Haiti, the levees in New Orleans and the poverty in each place that pre-existed those events all happened or existed during the internet era. Mumia and other political prisoners were locked up before the internet and remain locked up now. And no matter how many blogs we put up it is still a fact that music, news and information are only made popular by corporate demand. Just like with the FCC, we the people have “nothing to do with it.”
Jaron Lanier, a seminal figure in computer and internet history, has said recently that the web, far from being some playing field leveler, is the epitome of the “post-human society” where people must “feed the great machine” but that only those who own or run that machine – not the people who create or who are themselves content – are to be paid. The rest of us are simply aggregated into “mobs” to be easily surveyed and marketed to by the same major corporations who determine our news and popular culture.
And media scholar Dan Schiller has also for years been discussing the under-appreciated fact that the military technology behind the internet was given to us for reasons I’ve already mentioned but is used by them to assure U.S. empire and “global dominance” on the international “electronic battlefield.” Schiller’s focus is on how this technology assists in global monitoring, dissemination of U.S.-friendly culture and the remote operation of weaponry. He describes the decades-old cozy relationship between major corporations and the department of defense, a relationship John Kenneth Galbraith said 30 years ago resulted in, “an immense planning system that is larger than any other single economic entity in the noncommunist world.” This is why the Business Roundtable, a group of “160 CEOs representing the top echelons of corporate America” and which includes major telecomm companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, demanded from the government in 2005 that the internet, for which they get massive military contracts to develop technology, be protected. This recent court decision seems to have been just what they paid for. If applied, Our Newton’s Laws could have predicted this and would have again demanded that we be about the business of movement-making so as to make protection of our freedom of expression in any medium unnecessary.
Jared Ball can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.