Censorship Business

The biggest political story in America last week was not whose buttocks Al Franken did or did not palm, naked pictures of Joe Barton or even that the White House wants Roy Moore to win in Alabama (Were you surprised? I certainly wasn’t) it was two business deals. Let’s explore.

It was announced that the Justice Department is filling suit against the proposed AT&T – Time Warner merger. Like most on the left I have problems with the deal but my motivation is vastly different than the Trump administration’s concern. I am concerned that a single entity could have too much control over both the content of messages and their delivery to the consuming public. Trump apparently sees blocking this merger as a way to punish and eventually silence a network that he has repeatedly been critical of because he doesn’t like the way they cover him.

Trump was unhappy with CNN’s coverage of his campaign from the early days. He got his minions to start calling it the Clinton News Network. Time and again Trump labeled CNN as fake news. For years one of Vladimir Putin’s favorite tactics has been to label any news report that was unfavorable of him as fake news. You connect those dots.

When I’m not likening the Trump administration to an organized criminal enterprise I am usually pointing out how it operates like a fascist regime. Its economic policy is to consolidate wealth in a small number of friendly hands. If you look at the rise of fascist dictators in 1930’s Europe one thing they had in common was that they controlled the information that was widely available to the public. Today intimidation and unexplained deaths are part of the cost of doing business for Russian journalists who deviate from the Putin line.

The Trump administration has been in favor of unrestricted trade. They have dismantled regulations where possible. Why did they suddenly “get religion” on this deal? I think I answered that question two paragraphs ago. They hope that if CNN is spun off (the rumored “price” of having the deal approved) that it will be starved into extinction. Moral: Broadcast or publish things the President doesn’t like and the result will be “death”.

The FCC laid the groundwork to revoke the net neutrality rules of the Obama era. Under those rules an internet service provider (ISP) had to transmit all content at the same speed. Under deregulation they could relegate less favored content to a slower speed transmission and/or charge a premium for faster speed transmission (a so-called fast lane). This lets the ISPs effectively become censors. For those of you old enough to remember (or in some rural areas still suffering with) dial up, remember how long it took to download a single picture? Now what if a small group of ISPs, presumably pressured by the government, decided to slow down the transmission of sites that the administration didn’t like while simultaneously transmitting government favored content at high speed? Which do you think will get more views?

I could see the Trump administration looking favorably on an ISP that “slow walked” the sites of the New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC and this site. Simultaneously Fox News, Breitbart, Red State and neo-Nazi sites would download almost instantaneously. What about in a campaign where a GOP candidate’s site got the fast lane at no additional charge and their Democratic opponent was either denied access or charged a premium for it?  If we take partisanship and political philosophy out of it (which I do not envision) what about equal access to what is effectively a public utility? How could a small voice afford the same ISP fee that say the Wall Street Journal could? Is this really much different than telling poor communities they can’t have any water from the lake because the rich communities bid more?

If you only hear one viewpoint you are very likely to eventually believe it. Fascists always seek to control information. Access to information is necessary for critical thinking and a functioning democracy. Protect you right and ability to know! There will be public action; join it!

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