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The Abuse of the “AstroTurf” Misnomer -This isn’t LA gang warfare, it’s Net Neutrality Warfare

I would like to take this time to call a truce.

What I am realizing after digesting some of the responses to posts and articles from net neutrality advocates is that they have been quite successful – successful at cultivating a class of misinformed followers. Beginning with the apocalyptic claims that the Internet needs saving. Net Neutrality advocates are painting a grim and dismal picture of a world without net neutrality.

In this hypothetical world, ISPs and corporations will control what messages we all receive. Small enterprising businesses will not be able to thrive.  Our content will be censored. The Internet as we know it will cease to exist. Behind closed doors, I highly doubt even those sending out these messages believe this grim outlook.

When I started actively looking into the issue for my own edification and on behalf of my small, minority and women owned business clients, I discovered the truth.  There is little to no evidence that any of the parade of horribles espoused by net neutrality proponents will actually happen absent more stringent regulations.  Net regulation advocates rely on the same three examples of malfeasance of a few carriers in the past, but that is hardly sufficient evidence to justify action that could change or slow down innovation, growth or the seamless nature of the Internet. The case for market failure has hardly been made.

The overwhelming lack of evidence supporting the need for more internet regulation notwithstanding, Net Neutrality advocates encourage us to distrust corporations because of the hypothetical evil they will one day reap on the Internet. At the same time, we are being asked to take a leap of faith that the repercussions of regulation will not also result in a degradation of our Internet experience or compromise in our service quality and ability to access the services we want and need when we want to.

Hypotheticals aside, I have concrete, real examples of groups that would be harmed by increased Internet regulation, beginning with lower income consumers. They would have a more difficult time paying even a nominal price increase if ISPs respond to regulation by increasing prices across the board.  Meanwhile, I have clients who have relationships with ISPs and online companies who will no longer be able to maintain those relationships as a condition of some of the new rules.

Another effective aspect of the Net Neutrality advocates’ campaign is to paint all business and corporate interests with a broad brush, pegging them as evil, anti-consumer, anti- public, and only out for their bottom line. It is the same mentality that fuels conspiracy theorists and extreme factions in our society. Fanning the flames of corporate distrust creates a following of anti-business-like curmudgeons.

An unfortunate casualty of that campaign are those whose interests sometimes align with the corporations who, at times, find themselves at odds with their former friends, fighting tooth and nail to make sure their interests are properly represented. Not all businesses are created equal, and small businesses are more vulnerable to market downturns than larger businsses and must be creative when it comes to financing their growth and development.  It is unfair to ask them to sacrifice their American dream of making headway into the industry to champion a cause that could disrupt their businesses.

When they are not being asked to be martyrs and promote a message that they don’t necessarily believe in, they are called astroturf or sell outs or selfish. The accusations are utterly ridiculous, unfounded and baseless.

I am not sure when it happened, but at some point, this debate turned from a friendly disagreement on issues and policy to an all out war, complete with biting and poisonous rhetoric, back door meetings, and fingerpointing. It eventually became a partisan issue as well when no one was looking. It didn’t have to be this way.

I have asked serious questions of friends on one side of the issue wanting some more insight and information. However, because they realize I have an issue with some of the regulations, some have returned my queries with a sideward glance and an attitude of disgust and distrust towards my challenge to their position. They ask me if I am sure of all the issues and if I really understand all of the issues. On the contrary, I am a student of telecom policy, and at times have been a teacher of it, having instructed at three law schools and been a media law lecturer at two undergraduate institutions. Thus, I am aptly capable of digesting all of the varying complexities behind this issue. If I do not agree, it is because there are substantial, real and actual concerns I have, not that I am somehow ill-equipped to comprehend the issues. It is a condescending jab that is reserved for persons and groups of color  I assume based on the treatment some civil rights organizations who challenge net neutrality have received.

At the end of the day, the fact of the matter is that there is a middle ground and there are alternatives to accomplishing all of the goals that Net Neutrality advocates want to accomplish. These alternatives can be addressed and adopted in a way that will not create more harm and damage to some of those groups, like my small minority and women business clients.

The challenge is bringing all sides to the table to discuss alternatives, rather than continuing down this long and treacherous road we are on now.

I mean if the Crips and the Bloods can do it…

image credit: Turner Duckworth

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