America: Land of the fee


By Karen Ann DeLuca, Alexandria
(File Photo) 

To the editor:

Back in the 1950s, the interstate highway system became the crown jewel of the Eisenhower administration. Sold as beneficial to residents and country alike, its underlying purpose was to support the petroleum and automotive industries. Charles Irwin Wilson, who assisted in its planning, was still the head of General Motors when he was appointed Secretary of Defense in 1953. As Dinah Shore sang, “See the USA in a Chevrolet,” we got addicted to gas guzzling cars and the ability to hop in one and go anywhere, any time, alone.

Fast forward through all the foreign and domestic policy that catered to these conjoined twins and the infrastructure’s subsequent collapse, and we find tolls erected on those very same roads for revenue. Sometimes it’s to maintain them, sometimes not. Now we are seeing the rise of private fast lanes, being built for those who don’t want to wait in and wade through normal traffic.

Pay to play. Sound familiar?

Throughout roughly the same time period, television, at first free over the airways, progressed similarly. Televisions went from black and white sets to color cabinet consoles to the smorgasbord — and sticker shock — of cable to being streamed on computers and mobile devices. Now Aereo is charging for antenna TV! Again, pay to play.

This brings me to the net neutrality rules recently promulgated by the FCC, now in the comment period, which if finalized will put the Internet on the same path. The business model is the same. The land of the free becomes the land of the fee and, ignoring perspective, we call it progress. What seems to be different this time is that the cohort of 20 and 30 somethings who grew up on and with the technology — and in an environment that left them feeling entitled — have banded together in vocal opposition.

These same young adults are the disruptive entrepreneurs running the companies on the cyber platform, so seeing more established corporations merge and mediate in an effort to control their livelihood is distasteful. Every generation starts out believing things will be different for them, only to find out in the long run it is not.

Revolutions by definition involve displacement, sometimes of those that initiated them. This one has the added downside in that human labor could be almost entirely marginalized, and with that, necessary consumers will be priced out of the market that the old and new are fighting over.