Ultraliberal at home, but wary of the internet — this is the worldwide calling card of the market economy. And it also summarizes Donald Trump’s position on the internet and information.
On Tuesday, after announcing that the merger between AT&T and Time Warner will be blocked, Ajit Pai, the man named by Trump at the head of the Federal Communications Commission, also announced that on Dec. 14, the Open Internet Order enacted by Barack Obama to guarantee net neutrality will be rolled back.
No one considers it a problem to reconcile this interventionist streak with the neoliberal dogma endorsed by the short-tempered current occupant of the White House. Trump is in fact consistent with the new type of neoliberalism when he says he wants to “make America great again” using all the political prerogatives of his presidential role, bending the state administration apparatus to his will.
If net neutrality is abolished, one of the pillars of the internet as we know it will be gone, resulting in a redefinition of the power relations between companies working online in various ways. Trump intends to open a new chapter of a latent conflict, an underground one that is now beginning to manifest itself publicly, between a commercial, productive, entrepreneurial way of thinking and its antithesis.
On one side are the companies that, although powerful, have their core business in the national market (for example, telecommunications companies such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast). On the other side, there are the businesses that operate globally (those of Silicon Valley and the media).
It is an intra-capitalist conflict, to which is added the fact that the internet is a universal medium precisely because of the convergence of telecommunications and computer science. Nowadays one must produce content and find a business model for achieving profits in light of the expectation that online content should be consumed for free.
Netflix, Google, Amazon and Apple want to enter this “playing field,” and as a result cannot tolerate any limitations to internet access. Trump instead decided that all this sounds unpatriotic.
As a result, he thinks cancelling net neutrality would be a big step toward “making America great again” by promoting a classist hierarchy of access to the internet. It matters little to him that this means limiting the market. For Trump, easy access to the internet is a plaything of the rich. For regular people, poor service — nonetheless paid for at high price — should be enough.
The principle of net neutrality codified into regulation by Barack Obama was, in any case, a practice accepted by everyone.
Once they are connected, users are currently allowed the same speed of navigation in cyberspace, with any discrimination in navigating the internet forbidden, regardless of the fee they paid or the type of contract they have with an internet provider. This universalist principle has never been to the liking of the large telecommunications companies, which have always pushed for a rule more like “the more you pay, the faster you browse.” But internet access, even in the U.S., has always been considered a universal right.
And that is how the big online companies see it as well, from Google to Amazon and from Apple to Facebook, Twitter and Netflix, which in effect see net neutrality as the indispensable condition for their business model.
From now until Dec. 14, when the Open Internet Order will be abolished, Trump will encounter many obstacles along the way. In recent months, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has announced that the company will be undertaking a project aimed at using the internet to build a global community based on tolerance, meaning one where each online users would be able to communicate with their peers without denying the same possibility to those who think differently. Such a project is definitely something the other “lords of silicon” would be interested in as well.
What is happening across the Atlantic is not, however, a digital reenactment of a capitalist Game of Thrones. At stake is nothing less than the universal right of access to communication through the sharing of content online.
As a result, the main fight that the occupant of the White House will face is with the great multitude of the internet. And it is not a foregone conclusion that he who says he wants to “make America great again” — while presiding, due to his own actions, over its slow but inexorable decline — will be the one to win out in the end.
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