The Internet has been game-changing in nearly every important political moment. From the Arab Spring to Occupy, from Ferguson to feminism, groups facing oppression have a chance to control their own narrative, introducing topics too complex and provocative for traditional, top-down media.
Today, how average people feel about an issue finally, actually matters. When something important happens, public discourse can be more than soundbites crammed down our throats by paid (read: corrupted) professionals. When Ferguson or Gamergate happens, we can actually learn from it.
For those of us who came of age in America's dark days of post-9/11 hysteria, George Bush, and cable news (not to mention a cleverly co-opted New York Times that sat on the news of warrantless wiretapping for a year and pumped up the WMD threat in Iraq) it's impossible to overstate the difference.
But America's telecommunication and media giants are threatening to return us to that pre-Internet dark age. And Barack ObamaBarack ObamaJuan Williams: Race, Obama and Trump Obama on '60 Minutes': A president needs 'thick skin,' 'stamina' Trump should’ve Googled John Lewis before he Tweeted MORE–who more than any other American president has benefited from the open Internet and promised to protect it– is helping them do it.
The issue is net neutrality, the ability for people to connect online without interference from cable companies. The cable industry wants power over what sites and services people use, to start applying the confusing pricing– the kind that lets them charge such ridiculous amounts for TV– to the Internet.
If they win, your access to cable-sanctioned services will get fast and cheap, while access to millions of other voices on the Internet will get slow and expensive, perhaps impossible.
But that's where it ends. Obama's pick to run the FCC–the agency with the power to enforce net neutrality– is a former lobbyist for both cable companies and telcos.
Despite having hand picked the FCC’s leadership, the Obama administration is pretending to have no power over the FCC. This is not true. Obama has the power to remove Tom Wheeler from his position as FCC chair and replace him with one of the other commissioners. If that’s not power, what is?
Then, last week, the FCC's current plans leaked to the Wall Street Journal. Even though millions of Americans supported net neutrality, this proposal gave us the opposite: fastlanes for those who pay, and slowlanes for everyone else.
At this point, we no longer feel like we're speaking to an administration (and especially an FCC Chairman) that's operating in good faith. Four million Americans and nearly the entire tech community speak out, and the FCC does the opposite. This looks like simple corruption and–given everything Obama has promised his voters, volunteers, and donors on net neutrality–hypocrisy.
And more than anything else, we see this as a pattern. Whether it's the financial crisis, health care, immigration reform, or climate change, the Obama administration always says the right things. But when it comes time to act, it caves to elite power, again and again.
Obama's candidacy promised an escape from the dark ages of Bush, cable news, and a war built on hysteria. Now, by breaking his promises on net neutrality, Obama's legacy will be to actually return us to that dark age, where our entire Internet experience will have the thumbprints of top-down big cable/media conglomerates all over it.
Today, America goes to the polls. Obama's party is expected to suffer a series of defeats, and lose control of Congress. Is it any wonder? This was a turnout election, the people who care most about an open Internet are those without power, and Obama hasn’t fought for them. From where we sit, they deserve to lose.
Wilson is a co-founder of Fight for the Future, a nonpartisan organization that works to defend the open Internet.