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Posted on 2018-01-28

A Brief Look into the Net Non-Neutral Future

This is the most risky job we have ever taken.

It's a thought that's been stuck in my head for the last month and a half. Sitting in the cramped space of our jacked autocar, I consider speaking my mind. Only a moment before I move my lips do I realize the redundancy of speaking at all. Spying around the room, the faces of the rest of the group speak for me.

Jenn speaks up.

"Zye, how do you know that when we get there, the program will run correctly? Won't there be issues?"

Zye, only really paying attention to the laptop that's given him manual control of our autocar, responds.

"That's one I've worried myself. The program isn't mine. I bought it off of Elder. I'm trying to stay positive though. I've been studying."

It's true. Zye had been referencing Networking with GO since he got the book a month ago. From what I understand, he even had a working LAN network in his lab.

This sort of thing had been happening the entire trip. Someone brings up a question, trying to think if we missed something, if there was something we overlooked. There probably was; of course no one had thought of anything. We were too well versed in the plan.

There it was. The turn. We had been following the sealed tubes of the loop for around 3 hours, and only now had we turned away from the system. It's another 1.2 hours until we reach our destination.

We glance at each other. This will all be worth it.

On December 14th, 2017, the now defunct Federal Communications Commission voted to end the era of free and open communications in the USA.

Free thinkers of today have theorized that if it weren't for the ensuing politics, we would probably be living in a much better world today.

What happened after that Vote was a 3 year campaign by the CEOs of the major communication providers to remain in power. Not quite what the people – who at the time, had assumed that the vote would only result in a rise in their monthly bills – expected. In fact, they were in fact delighted to see that their monthly costs decrease!

But nothing comes for free. What people saved in cash they lost in freedom. It was subtle, of course, but like the now historic Russian cyber campaign, which had strongly effected the result of an election at the time, it worked. The communications traffic for the opponents of the political system in power at the time was slowed to a point of silence. This is of course not to mention the abrupt disappearance of whole sites dedicated to the opposition.

The plan sounds simple. Break into the north-western comms exchange central server (NW-CECS) and install a patch to the system that would grant access for a sect of rebels looking to bring down COMCO. Of course, that only sounds simple.

For starters, the location of the NW-CECES is a closely guarded secret. We had to coerce the info off of a maintenance worker, who's identity was already an issue to track down. Next, was the matter of getting out there. There's said to be a main transportation tunnel to the location for employees only, not being employees, we had to course our own path, following the Loop for many miles before turning and following an old roadway before walking the rest of the distance.

From there, our runner skillset was all we had to rely on. The layout, security, and even the entrance to the complex were a mystery. We did however have a fairly solid idea of the computer systems used inside, thanks to our top technological resource: the Elder, a systems administrator from the days of the Internet. He claims to have worked for a megacorporation before megacorporations were a very common thing, and while he wouldn't tell us which one, we do know he worked closely with the companies that merged into COMCO.

What people didn't realize is that the easiest way to control people is to control the information that they have access too.

Propaganda is one thing, showing people something you want them to believe is effective. The caveat of course is that with alternative views, the effects only reaches as far as the people not searching those out.

With the control of the Internet (not to mention television), in their hands, the communication companies quickly had control of the entire country. There was pushback of course, the citizens of the USA had a healthy appreciation for the application of free speech. The companies fought back however, and after having effectively put a new president in power, they solidified the legality of their actions.

The intertwining of governments and corporations, using their influence to effect legal issues directly through law, is the norm today. Back then however, the effects were relegated to lobbies and bribes. The process is much simpler, and much more effective, today.

Once the effectiveness of a direct influence had been seen in practice, the heads of the companies pursued greater influence, and more power. Anti-monopoly rules were overturned, mergers became commonplace, trade regulations and tariffs were managed in favour of the large corporations. They grew, and so did their influence.

It was not just communication companies, digital technology was quickly managed by just one corp. Manufacturing, transportation, biotech, food, all quickly became controlled by single entities; the new kings and monarchs took their opportunity to rule.

This era saw the end of democracy. We entered the new corporate-feudal world we are accustomed to today.

We had arrived. Sitting outside the vehicle, we geared up.

"Is everyone ready? It's a long walk." Chimed Heath, the muscle of our operation.

Grabbing my gun, I nodded. "Lets hope this is worth it."

Packing up his deck, Zye added "It will be a learning opportunity at the very least".

"Like our most dangerous run yet will be a learning opportunity" Jenn said, slightly upset at the implication that this wasn't what it was.

After the rest of us finished our last checks and preperations, we began our trek through the desert.

This was our chance. After running against corps for years, we were finally doing something worth running for. A chance to fight those who control the spread of ideas. Maybe, just maybe, we can change the world.

It was hot. Our gear, heavy. Yet as the facility crawled towards us on the horizon, we knew there was no turning back.

To put it simply, the worst was yet to come. Although the transition of power was quick, the long term effects weren't seen until far later.

The typical American life began to change as the corporate state took advantage of the people. Either you lived a life endlessly obsessing over climbing the rungs of the ladder at your corporate gig, or you died of starvation. The largest societal change came from the end of social "saftey-nets". The poorest people were no longer protected by even the most basic of aid.

Today we dream of a minimum wage, basic income, and social welfare. To think of a time when those were a reality seems inconceivable.

People moved into the cities to live on the scraps of the new empires. If you were lucky, you got a job serving food in a corporate cafeteria. Some people tried living on their own. If the legal protection for citizens were gone, it only made sense to try it on your own out in the country. But of course, Access to even the most basic crops were out of the wannabe farmers' hands. All that stuff was automated anyway – so why even bother.

The people weren't the only ones to suffer: the erosion of environmental protections meant global warming ran rampant. Once fruitful farmland has been replaced by desert dunes. Extinctions are commonplace. The once great cities by the coast have either been forgotten or have adapted with lavish feats of engineering.

This is the desolate world that we live in.

In 2018, the discussion around net neutrality tends to drift one of two ways: Either it is about the "Cable-ification" of the internet, or about "Fast" or "Slow" lanes. What these rhetorics fail to convey is just how complicated and powerful the internet is. With cable, the experience is far from interactive: you sit and watch one of however-many hundred of channels you have access to. On the internet, your choice of engagements range in the millions, and the experience is involved and multidimensional.

The internet is more than just a content distribution stream. To many people, it may just be a form of content consumption, but the content being consumed is far different than that of cable. We are not presented with just a single source of information, but infinitely many. More importantly, the internet is a communications platform, one where we can presumably put out our own views out onto a level playing field.

The problem therefore exists in the platform itself: We assume that what we watch, read, and engage with is genuine. In the most recent counterpoint to this assumption, "Russian Trolls" have been used (on many occasions) to stoke the flames of topical, divisive arguments.

While the scenario above might be fiction, I don't think such an outcome is necessarily unlikely; A bit extreme, yes, but not out of the realm of possibility. If there's power in a farm of english-speaking eastern europeans – who have to sign-up, craft identities, and post on their own accord – imagine what a couple of well placed artificial intelligences could do to a public lead to believe that what they are reading or watching is fact (or if not fact, at least human to some degree).

My point is this: give control of the largest communications platform to companies proven to be immoral, and you are almost certainly in for a messy time.

And while I could easily speculate for days on end about how that control could be abused, I am under the assumption that the fact that it can and will be abused, just simply is not a part of the conversation. Maybe people underestimate just how shady (not to mention evil) people can be. Maybe people assume that their government will ultimately protect them from being silenced. Maybe we are just more afraid that we'll have to pay more for Netflix.

If you give them an inch they'll take a mile.