Late last month, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it would propose new rules allowing companies like Netflix or Google to pay internet service providers (ISPs) like Verizon or Comcast for faster data lanes to deliver video and other content to their customers. In other words, the FCC was proposing to replace net neutrality—the egalitarian internet that we all know—with a pay-to-play platform designed to favor the biggest and richest players.
The backlash online was so huge, swift, and predictable that one might wonder what the hell the FCC bureaucrats were thinking. Could a handful of powerful companies really matter more to the commission than pretty much everybody else who uses the internet? The charts below show how a few wealthy special interests wield huge sway within the FCC, particularly with regard to the net neutrality debate. But first, a quick refresher on what net neutrality means:
Proponents of net neutrality, also known as the open internet, fear that allowing a fast lane on the web would hurt startups, nonprofits, activists, and anyone else who couldn't afford to pay the toll. Bigger tech companies such as Google also tend to favor net neutrality, though sometimes more for the sake of public relationsthan principle. But, you might ask, since the internet is already quite fast today compared with a few years ago, is a few seconds' difference in the time needed to load a web page really all that important? Actually, yes, it is. Here's why:
This might be one reason Barack Obama visited the Googleplex during his first presidential campaign and painted himself as one of net neutrality's staunchest defenders.
Obama's first pick to lead the FCC, Julius Genachowski, was initially a strong proponent of net neutrality. Genachowski made a video explaining why he wanted to reclassify ISPs as "telecommunications services," a legally bulletproof way of preserving an open internet that had long been favored by consumer groups. But he ultimately backed off in the face of an onslaught of lobbying by ISPs. By then their main trade group, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), was spending about 95 times more money lobbying the FCC than the Internet Association, which represents the tech companies that favor net neutrality.
Last May, two months after Genachowski stepped down, Obama replaced him with Tom Wheeler, a veteran telecommunications lobbyist who'd served as president of the NCTA before taking the helm of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CITA), the lobbying arm of the wireless industry. Obama called him "the Bo Jackson of telecom." The New Yorker's John Cassidy suggested that a more apt sports metaphor might have been "to compare him to one of the lawyers who helped finagle a lucrative anti-trust exemption for professional football and baseball."
Associated Press & Susan Walsh/AP
Did Obama like that Wheeler represented two of the most powerful groups that oppose net neutrality, or could he have picked him for some other reason? See below.
It's too early to say whether Wheeler's new net neutrality rules will be the nail in the coffin for an open internet. The FCC won't officially reveal them until May 15 (or later), and even then, a lot will depend on the FCC's discretion. Wheeler has said that the commission won't allow ISPs to "act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the internet," but what, exactly, does that mean? Is it commercially unreasonable to price the little guys out of faster internet service, or to effectively force people to pay more to watch House of Cards? Who knows? The only certainty is that Wheeler's former employers, the ISPs and wireless carriers, will flood the zone with lobbyists.
With a few notable exceptions, you can assume that tech companies, consumer groups, and content producers favor net neutrality, while ISPs oppose it. Which is to say, if the lobbyists have their way, the future clearly lies in net discrimination.
For the first time ever, many of the farmers who supply Mexican drug cartels have stopped planting marijuana, reports the Washington Post. "It's not worth it anymore," said Rodrigo Silla, a lifelong cannabis farmer from central Mexico. "I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization."
Facing stiff competition from pot grown legally and illegally north of the border, the price for a kilogram of Mexican schwag has plummeted by 75 percent, from $100 to $25, the Post reports:
Farmers in the storied "Golden Triangle" region of Mexico's Sinaloa state, which has produced the country's most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop…increasingly, they're unable to compete with US marijuana growers. With cannabis legalized or allowed for medical use in 20 US states and the District of Columbia, more and more of the American market is supplied with highly potent marijuana grown in American garages and converted warehouses—some licensed, others not.
As notesDavid Downs of the East Bay Express, this is a really big deal. In the past decade, Mexican drug cartels have murdered an estimated 60,000 people. The DEA annually spends more than $2 billion to deter the transport of illicit drugs across the border. "So now we have both the DEA and cartel farmers screaming bloody murder about legalization," Downs points out. "Sounds like we're on the right track."
Of course, the American pot boom is also creating problems of its own, with some Mexican traffickers moving north to California and other states to set up vast "trespass grows" on remote public lands. To be sure, the illicit market for weed will prop up criminal syndicates for as long as pot remains illegal, yet this week's news is some of strongest evidence to date that legalizing and decriminalizing pot will ultimately make everyone safer.
Like rednecks at a demolition derby, novelists keep showing up at the World Series of Poker. To be sure, other writers (notably James McManus) have won far more prize money playing high-stakes hold 'em, but none can match the self-deprecating charm of Colson Whitehead, a recently divorced New Yorker who figures that being "half dead inside" gives him the perfect poker face. With just six weeks to train, he juggles bus trips to Atlantic City with picking up his daughter from school. He finds something oddly reassuring about sharing tables with a hoodied "Robotron" and a grizzled "Methy Mike." The Noble Hustle, part love letter, part dark confessional, captures perfectly the mix of neurosis and narrative that makes gambling so appealing.
This review originally appeared in our May/June 2014 issue of Mother Jones.
US Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), playing a guitar
Two years ago, California Rep. Jared Huffman, who had previously served as a state assemblyman and an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, was elected to represent a district stretching from Marin County all the way to the Oregon border. It includes the Emerald Triangle, the three-county region that produces most of America's domestically grown marijuana. Huffman's people got in touch after seeing my recent story, "The Landscape-Scarring, Energy-Sucking, Wildlife-Killing Reality of Pot Farming." The congressman wanted to discuss, among other things, how he proposed to deal with the devastation that results from trespass grows on public lands.
Mother Jones: What's it like being the highest-elected official from the nation's epicenter of marijuana cultivation?
"When I…saw what people were doing to our streams and our fisheries and our watersheds, I was outraged."
Jared Huffman: I tell people that I represent the district with a third of the California coast, the biggest trees in the world, some of the best wine grapes in the world, and about 60 percent of the marijuana produced in America.
MJ: In fact, marijuana is the primary industry in your district. How do you approach that?
JH: It makes it that much more important that we find our way to a coherent marijuana policy, and that's what I try to work on. Right now, we are talking about one of the most urgent pieces, which is to discourage these trespass grows that are causing so much environmental damage on public and private lands.
MJ: Is it safe to say that marijuana farming is now the biggest environmental issue in your district?
JH: It is right at the top, number one. It has some competition: We have climate change and lots of other things, but this is creating some of the most acute effects, with consequences that could include extinction of species. When I learned about these trespass grows and saw what people were doing to our streams and our fisheries and our watersheds, I was outraged.
MJ: You're the sponsor of a bill called the PLANT Act, which would crack down on some of the most destructive pot gardens.
JH: The objective is to set stronger penalties where trespass grows are found. The illegal water diversions, the rampant use of toxic chemicals, the cutting down of trees, the destruction of wildlife—when these things are present in a trespass grow, we want there to be very, very stiff penalties.
MJ: But the people who tend to get busted at these grows are usually the low-level guys, often undocumented Latin American immigrants. The hard part is to catch their employers, the guys with the connections and the money. How is this bill going to change that?
JH: We have to begin to send a message that this is going to be taken seriously. The message to date has been that you can get away with this and there really is no consequence.
MJ: What's your personal stance on pot?
"I don't use it. I don't want any kids anywhere to use it; if I ever find one of my kids using it, they are in big trouble."
JH: I am not by any stretch an enthusiast or fan of marijuana. I don't use it. I don't want any kids anywhere to use it; if I ever find one of my kids using it, they are in big trouble. But I just think we have to face reality. This criminalization policy has been a failure by absolutely any measure. And we've got to learn the lessons of [alcohol] prohibition, find better ways to manage this substance. My hope is that we can deal with this the way we have dealt with tobacco: It has never been criminalized, but we have done a great job of reducing tobacco use, and we haven't had to lock anyone up for selling or using it.
MJ: How would the environmental problems associated with cannabis change if it were legalized?
JH: I think it would change overnight. You don't see people trekking back into the forest to grow soybeans.
MJ: But in 2010, all three counties in the Emerald Triangle voted against Proposition 19, the state ballot measure that would have made pot legal for recreational use. Growers feared that it would cause prices to drop and hurt their bottom lines. So how would ending prohibition benefit your constituents?
JH: It's going to be a mixed bag for some people. Those who have derived their livelihood from the high prices of marijuana—it being an illegal substance—are going to have to adjust to that. The feedback I'm getting is that the days of romanticizing the mom-and-pop pot grower are gone. That the influx of cartels and violent crime and the out-of-control nature—especially of the trespass growing—has changed things. All of it has taken us to a tipping point. Even in the Emerald Triangle, I now hear widespread calls for legalization. Many people who used to oppose legalization are now seeing it differently.
MJ: How often to do you hear from marijuana growers?
JH: I don't really hear from growers as an organized community.
MJ: There's the Emerald Growers Association, but I gather that most growers aren't very politically active.
JH: There was a time when they seemed like they might be able to organize themselves, when it looked like medical cannabis might be suitable to local ordinances and professional associations, but the incoherence of our marijuana policy has really frustrated that.
MJ: In your view, when is pot finally going to be legalized on the federal level?
The internet is not pleased that Condoleezza Rice will be joining the board of the filesharing service Dropbox. A lot of the concern has to do with the fact that she'll be helping Dropbox navigate "international expansion and privacy" issues. As Ars Technica notes, the former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State isn't exactly the kind of person you'd trust to defend your data from Uncle Sam: In 2003, she authorized NSA wiretaps of members of the United Nations Security Council at the behest of George W. Bush, and later defended them. Of course, to be fair, maybe having an insider like Rice onboard will allow Dropbox to push back against would-be government intrusions. Still, the news is likely to give a boost to Dropbox competitors that now market their cloud services, convincingly or not, as "NSA-proof."