By Luke Haines
It’s a fact of life that every generation sees the last of something. This feels particularly true of people who grew up as the internet and cell phones became ubiquitous.
I’m one of those people and I can still remember having a rotary phone on a table in our house. I can still remember, in the UK, only having four TV channels. The excitement was palpable when the fifth one launched. Cable TV, which we got when I was ten years old, blew my mind. We must have had thirty channels.
Now, however, we risk seeing the internet as we know it go the way of rotary phones and analogue TV. If things continue in their current direction, one day we will tell the kids of what the internet used to be like. “You could go on any website you liked,” we’d say, as our bionic offspring wonder what a website was and go back to holo-Skyping their friends on Mars. Or “Musk-topia,” as it will have been rebranded.
This is all because the FCC have voted to end Net Neutrality, yet another blow to the image of America as the “land of the free.” In case you haven’t followed the story, it works something like this: Right now, the internet is “neutral.” This means that you can do whatever you want on it, within reason. If net neutrality ends, your service provider will be able to decide which websites you visit, what content you receive, and theoretically how much bandwidth you can use.
Let’s say your service provider strikes a deal with Pizza Hut. You’re hungry one night and Google restaurants in your area. Because net neutrality was repealed, the only results that come up are Pizza Hut. Nothing else.
Let’s say you missed the game last night and go over to espn.com to see what the score was. Wait, do you have the Sports Package on your internet deal? Because that costs extra and if you haven’t paid for it, that website is off limits. So are all the other sports websites until you buy the add-on.
The more sinister implications should be obvious, but let’s explore them anyway. You buy a basic internet package. That comes with one news source, one sports site, Facebook and maybe a couple of other bells and whistles. Everything else is blocked. Maybe that one news site is Fox News. Now your only source of online news is Fox and Friends, and pretty soon it’s done irreparable damage to your I.Q. You try to fight it but with the flow of information being controlled by your internet provider, pretty soon you find yourself drinking the Kool Aid, buying a MAGA hat and standing with the other Bovines at a Trump rally, bellowing impotently about the things they’ve told you to be mad at. Trump, incidentally, is polling at a 95% approval rate.
I’m kidding, he’s not, but how do you know? The only news source you can access is Fox, and they tell you the President is a hero and a genius. You can’t check other sites to see if that’s true because YOU CAN’T ACCESS THEM.
If all of this weren’t Orwellian and terrifying enough, just realise that we have been living in a god damned golden age of free pornography. With Net Neutrality repealed, you’re going to have to call your service provider and say you want access to porn sites. Do you have the balls for that? Millions won’t. You remember in the nineties when racist Republican fossil Strom Thurmond was getting all bent out of shape about pornography ruining the nation? All it takes is that same kind of bullshit moralising to come into force again.
The Republicans are in charge, after all, and they love telling other people what to do with their genitals. It’s an unhealthy obsession for them, and their bogus piety could conceivably see access to porn sites outlawed for all but the correct people (ie: them.)
The Republicans can stay in charge, of course, because people will have no idea how to register to vote. The sort of groundswell of poor black voters we just saw in Alabama will be impossible, because how do you find your polling station? How do you register? These are the sort of things people are used to Googling, and if those search results are blocked for everyone who doesn’t have the Political Search Result Expansion Package ($39.95 a month) then voter numbers will drop.
If all of that is depressing, and you think some retail therapy might help, you’re shit out of luck. With the information you can access under strict control, cheap internet shopping will become a thing of the past. If you want to buy a book on Amazon – which is what it used to be for, fact fans – then your search will only return the hardback, diamond studded, signed-by-the-author version of the book you want. It costs a hundred dollars. The cheaper search results are banned by your Service Provider, which is conveniently owned by Amazon.
There are more examples, but without Net Neutrality your ISP doesn’t want you reading an article that long. If you want the “reading long articles” package it will be another ten dollars a month.
Twelve if you want to see the pictures.
Make no mistake. The repeal of Net Neutrality has some terrifying, Orwellian implications for everyone. Get out and protest, call your representatives and tell them you’re mad about this. Do something, just so that one day you can tell your kids you did.
Otherwise, one day you’ll be telling them that the internet used to be free.