Yesterday, NPR ran a story that utterly blew my mind. It’s not that the news was bad, or unexpected, but in how cavalierly its contents just pissed all over what most people think it means to be a democracy. The story was about the 1 million+ comments the FCC received concerning the proposed dismantling of net neutrality.
If you’re new to the issue, net neutrality is what we have now, where all content on the web is treated equally. What cable companies want the FCC to do is end net neutrality, so the cable companies can charge content providers, like Netflix and others, truckloads upon truckloads of money for sending data down their cables. But the big takeaway from this NPR story, to me, is the bald-faced admission (which is uncommented upon in the story) that nobody making policy gives a single fuck about what Americans think about that policy. You know whose opinion they do care about? The megacorporations they’re tasked with regulating.
Two key moments from the story dismiss the opinions and concerns of regular people out-of-hand. Gigi Sohn, head of public engagement for the FCC, says (and quite dismissively, if you listen to her), “A lot of these comments are one paragraph, two paragraphs, they don’t have much substance beyond, ‘we want strong net neutrality. ‘ ” Law professor Richard Pierce, who was interviewed for the story, goes even farther, saying “The vast majority of the comments are utterly worthless…Those comments that have some potential to influence are the very lengthy, very well-tailored comments that include a lot of discussion of legal issues, a lot of discussion of policy issues, lots of data, lots of analysis…Those are submitted exclusively by firms that have a large amount of money at stake in the rule-making.”
Let me be clear: when we go to vote, since we are the “demos” in “democracy,” we don’t have to provide data or statistics or legal precedent to back up our votes. We just let our voice be heard — that’s all we have to do. But we made our voices heard in record numbers to the FCC, the communications governing body for the second-largest democracy on the planet — and they said “That’s sweet, now step back and let the industry we’re supposed to be regulating tell us what to do.”
I get that this is par for the course these days, and that a lot of people are saying we’ve already eclipsed democracy in favor of corporate oligarchy, but it still pisses me off.
Here’s a better, funnier, primer on net neutrality than I can give, and part of the reason why the FCC received so many comments their site has mostly been down for the last three months: