A Quick Death for Net Neutrality

It’s bitter out there for Christmas.

And I’m not even talking about the usual Washington suspects: Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian campaign meddling, the tax overhaul bill or how the new Senate 51-49 balance of power will do when Democratic Sen.-elect Doug Jones of Alabama is sworn in, in early January.

(Miracles do happen now and then.)

2018 is bound to be full of fierce clashes. But I’m not done, not over 2017’s net neutrality news. Just last week, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to scuttle that principle, which the Obama administration held high. The commission, internally divided and fraught over the vote, made a radical, sweeping policy change in a quick death. The Trump White House has been in power less than a year.

This decision will affect virtually every American consumer. The big winners will be the powerhouse internet providers such as Verizon and Comcast. The repeal strikes down requirements that smaller tech companies have equal access to the ether society dearly depends on, the internet. It also allows service to some websites to be sped up or blocked. In other words, the internet will not be a fair level playing field, as originally envisioned by the government. More will be left to the discretion of private providers, who are predicted to reap profits like never before, at our eventual expense.

Didn’t you know deregulation is king – in a Santa Claus suit?

That brings me to the outrageous Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman named this year. He released a video, starring himself, that flirts with the absurd. Chairing a commission that dates to the John F. Kennedy presidency, he threw away its reputation and dignity in a pop culture number where he gets dressed up as Santa with a fidget spinner, and in a black hoodie with a light saber, among other guises. He even gyrated to music, with four other people, according to The Chicago Tribune which said the segments are “sarcasm-soaked.” (Was it meant to be the Harlem Shake?)

One Pai message was: “You can still ruin memes.” Reassuring. Whatever. Oh, and he says, “You can still gram your food.”

What kills me is that Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, was first appointed to the FCC by President Obama. I had to read that a second time, and I can’t tell you why.

In any case, this exhibitionist behavior is unacceptable. It makes a mockery of fairness and deliberation, ultimately of American democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville, the early 19th century author of “Democracy in America,” would keel over.

In Chicago lives Newton N. Minow, a leading lawyer and citizen, at age 91. He introduced Michelle Robinson and Barack Obama the summer they worked at his law firm, high in the city’s glass and steel towers. He has served on the presidential debate commissions for years.

I had the honor to meet Minow there. In an interview, we heard stories of giving advice to his friend “Jack” Kennedy on the 1960 campaign, telling then-Sen. Kennedy he could win the presidential primary there. And he did. Minow was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Minow’s place in history is that he became the first chairman of the new FCC, appointed by President Kennedy. He was younger than the young president, in his 30s. His famous saying: television was a “vast wasteland.”

That message has stood the test of time. Pai can only hope to court more notoriety.

We’ve come a long way, baby, from Minow.

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