More Than the Internet: Net Neutrality Vote Will Determine Whether Americans Are Citizens First or Consumers First

The medium is the massage -- Marshall McLuhan

The debate on the upcoming net neutrality vote should first address the overarching issue it creates: are we, as Americans, consumers first or citizens first? What are our true values and priorities?

The Federal Communications Commission is set to vote on rules to regulate internet traffic in February. At stake is whether the internet (or, as George W Bush called it, "the internets") should become a multi-tiered system in which the highest payers get preferential treatment, or whether all users should be treated equally.

Preferential treatment for the highest bidders would mean priority lanes for faster transmissions and slower lanes for others.

Yes, we can argue about whether equal access will spur more innovation or whether preferential access for the highest bidders will deliver more and better content, and thus spark innovations of its own.

But, more fundamental is whether we consider ourselves citizens first, or are we primarily beneficiaries of one version or another of a market economy?

We will never know if equal access or preferential access would spur more innovation, more cool stuff, than the opposite, as it is not an experiment that can be performed. Whichever decision is made, we cannot know what results the unchosen alternative would have produced.

I hope the FCC says that we are citizens first, consumers second, and chooses net neutrality. I like being an American citizen. My grandparents suffered a lot to make it possible. If there is some gizmo, or experience, I do not get, or receive as quickly, I will never know...and, even if I did, I am sure I can be just as happy without it.

Not everything has to feed corporate quarterly earnings reports or consumerism. When President Teddy Roosevelt preserved the Grand Canyon from exploitation by mining interests, and when President Obama did the same for Bristol Bay in Alaska, what was really at stake is whether we are citizens first, with a heritage to preserve, or just consumers and commercial interests.

The net neutrality decision is of the same ilk.

What about you? Citizen first, or consumer first?