Net Neutrality will lead to unequal access to the Internet, but it’s no big deal. There is nothing wrong with inequality, as long as everyone can log on.
The Twitter hashtag #FucktheFCC emerged as a response to the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision to rescind Obama-era net neutrality regulations, restoring what FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called “a free and open Internet”. When Pai was not being invited to “kill himself” by tolerant citizens of the left, many responders noted that a free and open Internet would also likely offer faster, better speeds to those who can pay.
Much of the opposition to an open internet rests on the assumption that there is something morally objectionable in the resulting inequality of access, but upon examination, it is difficult to make a coherent case supporting inequality as an inherently negative thing. That some people have access to a faster internet based on their ability and willingness to pay is not a morally significant issue, as long as everyone has some sort of access to what amounts to a vital utility in the modern world.
The framing of inequality as a moral issue structures much of the left’s understanding of how the world works. Gender inequality, racial inequality, and income inequality are all understood as morally bad things, regardless of the reason for the inequality or the individual responses to the inequality.
A woman who has freely chosen to forgo an income so she can be at home to raise her children has made a choice many women consider a luxury, but this choice is still framed by the left as an example of inequality that is inherently bad and wrong, simply because the resulting income for the woman (zero) is unequal to her husband’s income (not zero).
This kind of gender inequality, arising from women’s specific and preferred choices, is known as the ‘wage gap.’
The vision of inequality as bad is not coherent over all examples, though.
Some racial inequalities are perceived as important and morally fraught, while other inequalities are not troubling. The dearth of women in PhD programs in STEM subjects is a morally contentious inequality, but the over-representation of both men and women from Asian backgrounds is not.
Feminist activists express deep concern over women’s unequal burden of domestic labor especially when it comes to caring for small children, but also actively and successfully oppose shared legal custody of children. Inequality is important when the burden falls on women, but not important when the burden falls on men.
Donald Trump does not have as much money as the Queen of England, but this inequality is not generally perceived as morally significant. To the other extreme, the moral aspects of hunger confronting a family of five with a single loaf of bread to share for a meal are not in any way satisfied by forcing that family to share with another, equally disadvantaged family.
Inequality is not the morally significant issue, sufficiency is.
That some people will be able to afford faster, higher quality bandwidth does not matter, provided that all citizens have access to the Internet, such that they are able to function in society. The government has a role to play in regulating sufficient access to the Internet, but not in regulating equal access. Previous net neutrality rules that treat each packet of digital information as if they were equal to one another do not serve any function when it comes to ensuring equal access to the Internet, nor do they serve to address the more fundamental issue of sufficient access.
Net neutrality might lead to inequality, but inequality is not a bad thing.
Janet Bloomfield is a shield maiden in the culture wars. Her book FeminISN’T is available on Amazon.
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