Talking New Media

NYT tech columnist fears the Internet is dying, but Europe may again recognize the opportunity

Combined with the tax bill’s targeting of graduate education, the administration’s attack on science and the media, we may be seeing the beginnings of a shift back to Europe of business, education and innovation, a loss far larger for the US than just an open Internet

The New York Times “State of the Art” columnist Farhad Manjoo fears “the Internet is dying” in a column today for the newspaper’s website. At a time when it is hard to concentrate on anything except the latest outrage, he has a sobering, if incomplete, point to make.

(Here is the column from Manjoo.)

Obviously, Manjoo is reacting to the impending vote of the Federal Communications Commission which will repeal net neutrality rules for US Internet service providers. It is a cynical move, by a cynical administration, hellbent on giving as much control to corporations over our lives as is possible in one or two administrations. From the exit of the Paris climate accords, to the deconstruction of the State Department, to basic social norms, nothing will be left unspoiled by the president.

The loss of net neutrality rules will have a profound impact on Internet users in the US, unless the companies for which this is being done are timid. I doubt they will be.

They surely know that in 2020, and possibly as early as in 2018, this rollback will be a big issue. What to do? Do Comcast and AT&T take quick advantage of the rollback or wait, hoping the voters will not remember this at the ballot box and reelect Republicans. It is a race against time, because one can be sure the number one priority of any new Democratic administration will be the reimplementation of regulations. Or, at least, it should be.

“Because net neutrality shelters start-ups — which can’t easily pay for fast-line access — from internet giants that can pay, the rules are just about the last bulwark against the complete corporate takeover of much of online life,” Fanjoo writes. “When the rules go, the internet will still work, but it will look like and feel like something else altogether — a network in which business development deals, rather than innovation, determine what you experience, a network that feels much more like cable TV than the technological Wild West that gave you Napster and Netflix.”

He is right, but he comes at this from a US perspective.

The rollback of net neutrality, which combined with other actions by this administration, may finally kill the US century.

Imagine what a corporately controlled Internet in the US will do when combined with the GOP’s decision to tax tuition waivers, as just one small example. Even Forbes, a pro-Trump publication if ever there was one, is concerned about this.

Briefly, the new tax bill will consider the tuition waivers many graduate students get as taxable income. These waivers, which can be anyway from $15k to $50K or more in tuition savings, are handed out by universities for masters and Ph.D students, often when they have received their undergraduate degrees from the same university.

Someone who receives, say $30K in tuition savings would now owe a considerable sum in taxes. What this would mean in practical terms, and why this administration wants to do this, is that many, many students will no longer be able to go to graduate school, making it easier for the Donald or Eric Trump’s of the world to get advanced degrees because, well, who else could afford to?

The US has benefited enormously from an open Internet, an extensive university system. We are killing it off.

But… in Europe, I am sure many there see an opportunity.

Immediately after the president withdrew from the Paris accords, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, invited climate scientists to France. This was a natural reaction — after all, with the UK Brexit vote businesses and institutions in the UK are being moved to the continent. These foolish decisions have enormous consequences.

Thingd flow naturally, and what we are about to see is a flow out of the US of many of the things Americans have come to take for granted.

“Because of the open internet, a web developer can launch a business out of their own apartment, an aspiring fashion designer in Wyoming can sell clothes in Los Angeles, or a caterer can find new customers in their town. Because of net neutrality, consumers and businesses have unfettered access to one another, increasing competition and consumer choice,” said a letter sent to FCC chairman Ajit Pai by more than 200 start-ups. If they see the danger, certainly others outside the US will see the opportunity.

“The internet doesn’t have to be a corporate playground,” Fanjoo concludes. “That’s just the path we’ve chosen.”