The Internet was supposed to be the new frontier, an open space allowing for the free flow of information. However, these pictures of an open highway of information are slowly narrowing, due to a move that would allow broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon to charge their customers more for transmitting content at quicker speeds.
This is essentially destroying net neutrality and squeezing consumers’ pockets simply for the sake of turning a profit. And to add insult to injury is the newest Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, who previously held positions as the President of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association.
In the latest Variety article, “FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Points to Big Changes Ahead for Television,” author Juan Gonzalez quotes Wheeler as saying, “I’m not going to pre-judge any of these issues. But ‘good faith’ was put in for a purpose of saying people of good faith can come together and avoid consumer harm. There seems to be an increase in disputes and resulting consumer harm. That’s what we have to look at.”
It seems ironic and hypocritical for Wheeler to advocate for consumers when the very move of allowing broadband providers to charge customers for Internet speeds is counterintuitive to this idea. If Wheeler really wanted to avoid consumer harm, he would not allow these large conglomerates to monopolize the web. By doing so, the power of the web ends up transferring from the hands of the people to the hands of corporations — from the many to the little.
But even more so than the responsibility Wheeler has to put his words into action, journalists have a duty to keep Wheeler accountable of his actions. This line becomes evermore murky, however, when Wheeler gives a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters in Las Vegas. Journalists, whether print or broadcast, should keep a close eye on government officials like Wheeler, and should constantly be cautious of receiving propaganda from these public figures.
The journalists at that event should have readily questioned Wheeler’s attendance, and how it reflects upon their industry. If Wheeler wants to avoid consumer harm, it should be the journalists who hold him accountable to those words, instead of letting him freely off the hook.
The issue of net neutrality is being threatened by corporate conglomerates and officials like Tom Wheeler who prioritize capital gain over democratic freedom, and this ongoing monopolization must be dissented by journalists themselves. As watchdogs for the public and representatives of the fourth estate, journalists should hold these people accountable for their words and actions.