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Remember when Wikipedia went black over SOPA and PIPA (thank you Aaron Swartz)? Now that was a protest that got people’s attention and contributed mightily to the legislation being overthrown. Yesterday’s coordinated internet industry protest against the Trump Administration’s efforts to end net neutrality rules paled by comparison. Me thinks it was good enough publicity so as not to look turncoat on the 2014 push that the tech industry made to get the F.C.C. to reclassify the internet as a utility.  Me also thinks that there is more to the story.

Very suspicious was the internet industry’s silence prior to the fateful May 18 F.C.C. vote. Does it really take some of the most wealthy and powerful industries that practice and preach nimbleness two months to respond? And what a paltry response it was. Predictably, the most powerful among them, Google, issued a meager blog post with a link to the Internet Association’s action page. While I can appreciate the graphic novel form, it is but one among what should be many approaches – including ones that don’t lean so heavily on the Three Stooges theme for gifs – to explain the significance of this matter.  Google outsourced the issue. Smaller sites, ones that genuinely need these rules to compete such as Etsy, were more forward.  Facebook fell somewhere in the middle with a few sober words from Sheryl Sandberg. 

I am disappointed, but not surprised.  In the weeks leading up to the May 18 vote, the silence from the internet industry was deafening. I watched with dark interest when Chairman Pai went out to Silicon Valley prior to the vote; it seemed to me that a quiet agreement might have been made.  Let the telecoms have their way, you won’t be adversely affected, the telecoms will push the money-making aspect of this shift onto consumer, and you get to consolidate your position on the internet against existing and future competitors. After all, this visit was in the aftermath of Congress’s vote to allow telecoms to scrape personally identifiable information from transmissions.  Internet industries were strangely silent then too, perhaps because they did not want to bring attention onto their own grabby practices.  Indeed, between telecoms and internet industries, this vote “leveled the playing field” on collection of personally identifiable information. At guess whose expense?

Gone are the days when there was creative tension among content owners, telecoms and tech industries. Apple cozied up to the content owners with iTunes and encryption technologies that block “unapproved” content. Thanks to the Trump Administration deregulation push, telecoms and tech industries now have more in common than that which divides them. Vertical integration of telecoms and content closes the loop. Once again, let us ask: at whose expense? You and me as consumers, and high ed, which, from research to outreach, still requires neutral pipes. 

 Remember duck and cover?  It was what we were taught back in the 50’s and early 60’s to do at school, under our desks, in the event of a nuclear attack. Against immediate debris, that approach made some sense; against radiation obviously not.  That approach is what comes to mind when I think of higher education’s D.C. politics. Get the higher ed lobby in there when it wants something, more money for grants or to reauthorized the Higher Education Act.  In the twentieth-century, when the issues were as apparent as falling debris, that approach worked.  We are in the radiation phase now, and it does not. It should be time to change tactics up. With headlines about Republicans devaluing higher education and the pendulum swings on Title IX, higher education associations and institutional leaders cannot seem to get off the ropes. For the millions of dollars that higher education spends on leadership training and consultants, it would seem to me that now is the time that it should spend some money on a good coach.   

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