Dominated by the Digital Elite

Author: Roslyn Layton
Coverage Type: op-ed
American Enterprise Institute, 1150 Seventeenth Street, Washington, DC, 20036, United States

[Commentary] More than 15 million comments have been filed with the Federal Communications Commission on its Restoring Internet Freedom docket, which focuses on the concept of net neutrality, and specifically Title II regulations imposed in 2015 under the previous administration. While this colossal number includes many sentiments – including an unsettling number of foreign and some 6 million fake comments – it does not contain significant representation from poor, minority and senior Americans. Media and communications scholars have documented that online activism is the province of the digital elite and largely aligns with race and class. Herein lies an unsettling problem.

"Digital democracy" has been promoted to enable underrepresented consumers to become more politically involved. This seems intuitive, but the reality is that digitization can, if anything, exacerbate the problem of these individuals not participating. The reality is that Title II ignores and hurts underserved communities. It prohibits a free market for data which allows these individuals to enjoy free and reduced price content and offerings. It has cost the nation some $35 billion annually in lost participation from content-side actors and advertisers which would otherwise support internet access to these groups. It is also responsible for deterring the creation of some 750,000 jobs.

[Roslyn Layton is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy.]



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