In this age of instant gratification, we may be conditioned to think that the most expedient option is the best.
But Rome wasn’t built in a day – and we can’t rely on the path of least resistance to protect a free and open internet.
The battle for net neutrality started almost two decades ago, and to see this through to an ethical and equitable solution, we must have a permanent law on the books preventing any internet provider or tech company from blocking websites, manipulating or sharing data, or discriminating online.
Right now, much of the energy is being focused on a quick-fix process in Congress called the Congressional Review Act, a procedural device that will not create permanent statutory rules in net neutrality. While it might restore earlier FCC regulations on the issue, they will still be vulnerable to future partisan challenges.
Utilizing the CRA option will only serve to extend the conflict rather than bring it to a close.
The 2015 version of net neutrality that the CRA would restore is strong in some ways, but harmful in others – most importantly it relies on obsolete “utility style” regulation that many believe will make it harder to build new networks and connect communities that don’t have access to high-speed broadband.
Back in 2015, the NAACP and the Communications Workers of America warned against this version of neutrality and predicted it could put hundreds of thousands of broadband jobs at risk by driving away investment. One study found this version of the rules could eliminate as much as $30 billion a year in network investment.
Congress needs to take a longer view to focus on the development of thoughtful, comprehensive legislation to protect the open internet.
Critically, that means moving past earlier versions of net neutrality that exempted the big tech social media and search giants that shape and influence so much of what we can do and see online.
In real time, through the probe of Facebook’s role in the 2016 elections, we are already grappling with the implications of the control big tech and social media platforms have over our personal data and the ethical and legal implications of the ways they monetize that information and influence decision-making.
Google, for example, has already been fined $2.7 billion for discriminating in its search results by favoring its own services and smothering competitors. And Amazon just patented new technology to prevent consumers in its physical stores – including the nearly 500 Whole Foods locations it just bought – from using store Wi-Fi to compare prices.
Even more alarming is that many of these types of platforms seem built on algorithms that pick and choose what we see and experience online, yet are overwhelmingly run by white and male employees who seem oblivious to basic requirements of fairness and equality online.
The social implications are profound. One study found that users with African-American identifying names are 25 percent more likely to receive ads involving arrest records and background checks. Another by Carnegie Mellon University found that Google searches show higher-paying jobs to men more than to women. We need an information ecosystem where society’s needs and basic principles of openness and equality shape our opportunities and experiences online, not predatory monopolies and antiquated biases.
Big tech and social media companies are critical actors with the ability to make the internet more inclusive and welcoming or divisive and hateful.
Net neutrality legislation can require fair play, transparency, equal competition and an end to viewpoint discrimination, censorship, harassment or abuse. This is vital for an industry that has such a poor track record on questions of equal opportunity, open competition and diversity.
The CRA bill pending in Congress means well but we need meaningful, permanent legislation – a comprehensive law that addresses the holistic needs of the internet ecosystem and fairly regulates all parties to effectively protect our communities and the internet itself.
MANA is a national Latina group founded in 1974.