In defiance of the FCC
On March 5, 2018, Washington State governor Jay Islee signed into law some bold legislation – HB2282: entitled “Protecting an open Internet in Washington State”. In direct defiance of the abolition of net neutrality by the Federal Communication Commission or FCC, Washington State became the first state in the Union to defy what some consider the corporate takeover of the Internet at the behest of the United States federal government. Other state governments are resisting the FCC by warning Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) that no state government business will be conducted with companies that do not comply with former net neutrality rules. While appeals attempting to restore net neutrality on a national level are already in place, even if such a restoration is upheld by the Senate, the House of Representatives is not likely to reverse the FCC’s December 14th, 2017 decision. Armed with the knowledge that the vast majority of Americans (including most Washingtonians) favor net neutrality and anticipating the aftermath of the FCC ruling, Washington State and an increasing number of municipalities have mobilized to counteract the federal government’s seeming willingness to defy the will of the People.
“Net neutrality is important to everyone — our constituents, small business owners, teachers, entrepreneurs, everyone,” Hansen said. “This is a cause with overwhelming bipartisan support. It’s always nice to see something where Democrats and Republicans can work together to maintain common-sense consumer protections.” ~ Drew Hansen, State Representative
Without a Center
This action by Washington State highlights the larger issue of decentralization—both related to the Internet and many other issues the United States and perhaps the world must begin to face in earnest. Regarding the governance of the U.S., to what degree can we continue to allow small groups of individuals to dominate the lives of the entire population? The specifics of such a question spread across the political spectrum, touching various sensibilities, arriving at vastly different conclusions on an array of different issues. Both left and right leaning folks decry the apparently systematic enactment of policies and governance in which a minority of the populace brings their agenda to bear on the majority (the most pronounced—some would say egregious—example being the impact of the minority-elected person currently in the Oval Office). While some of us (a minority) at seekingGood favor a shift toward a general decentralization of governance, such ideas are entertained with a constant awareness of the importance of some measure of federal oversight necessary to protect us from US. The human race behaving as it habitually does defies “libertarian” notions of nearly complete freedom of individuals and reliance on small group governance.
This issue regarding who is in control has no easy answers. From various corners of public opinion, an increasing number of Americans agree that whatever is happening at the federal level of governance is not working. However, considering the actions of Washington State, an important underlying question is this: Is this state-based independence a good thing? The United States works in a certain prescribed manner involving jurisdictional prescriptions grounded in the rule of law. The jurisdiction of states over the lives of its citizens is defined relative to federal governance such that we should be able to function efficiently as a country while maintaining reasonable local control. Have we not approached this states-vs-federal control dilemma in our not so distant past (namely, the Civil War)? When states must resort to direct defiance of the federal government, this speaks volumes regarding the dysfunction of the country as a whole. While on the one hand we might applaud the efforts of Washington State and other more local authority structures in their attempt to preserve what appears as the good of the People, we also need to maintain a vigilant wariness regarding how far and in what ways we go down the path of perceived need for independent governance.
When we cease to be a pluralistic society (as some so-called “Americans” now advocate), when we cease to uphold the American ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, we relinquish any “greatness” this nation has ever been able (at least to pretend) to claim. The stilted, white male landowner assumptions of the Founding Fathers notwithstanding, the idea of America has ignited inspiration in the hearts and minds of individuals throughout the world. It is an ideal the world needs and yet, sadly, which appears to be slipping away from view.
Before we can come up with workable answers to the myriad of questions facing us as a country, we in the U.S. need to seriously consider the nature of the questions we ask and the answers we propose. Very often, the questions we ask in public mask more important underlying considerations (often driven by the agendas of covert players). In a pluralistic society—which the United States still represents—we have to address subtle questions with equally subtle (and perhaps admittedly tentative) answers in order to at least ameliorate if not surpass the partisan deadlock we have come to experience as the status quo. Furthermore, we need to closely scrutinize the various forces driving our debates and their respective agendas within this current ball of sociopolitical confusion. Even the net neutrality debate is not a simple one. While the vast majority of Americans favor retaining the net neutrality rules enacted in 2015 (those just overturned by the FCC), there are reasonable technological arguments that might favor relaxing such rules. But this situation, as is true of many questions brought before the public, is not a simple binary query seeking a single, definitive answer. While the large telecom companies might favor the recent FCC actions, the motivations of these companies—perhaps most clearly exemplified by the actions of Comcast—appear to be more about profit than technological enhancement for the good of the People. The bottom line is that we need to survey our questions and decisions more carefully, noting the changes in the structures that most effect our lives.
“Internet service providers cannot be allowed to substitute their money-motivated judgment on how you spend your time online.” ~ Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz, a Seattle-based search engine optimization company.
We are proposing no specific action here—no “should” nor “should not” admonitions. Of course, we should all applaud the courage and commitment of the Washington State legislation—that Americans banded together to peacefully demand and insure the preservation of their definition of freedom. At the same time, we must remain vigilant, to closely scrutinize the actions we take with an eye not only toward the long and short term implications but the paradigmatic shifts we might instigate. Additionally, in these tumultuous times, we need to be ever mindful of those conditions we both allow and support, for the desperation such conditions could generate, leading to a state of affairs we all might regret.
You decide, if you can. And once you do, please, speak up!