If we’re being honest, the best thing about TSA Pre-Check isn’t that you spend $85 to keep your shoes on when you go through airport security. It’s that, for a brief moment, you get to be a Have, filing past the miserable Have Nots in the general security line. Sure, some of them might get to cut ahead in that line with their $1000 first class ticket to Toledo, but you gave $85 to a routinely ineffectual government agency to skip straight past the worst of the security theater and get to your gate. For the few minutes you stand in line, you are proof that regulated bribery works, and the feeling is blissful.
Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn agrees—and she wants to make paid prioritization a thing your internet service provider can offer, too.
In an opening statement delivered Tuesday during a hearing on paid prioritization, Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican who the chairs the House Communications and Technology subcommittee and is known for her anti-net neutrality bullshit, compared the need for prioritizing certain types of data to the acceptable practice of hiring of a line-sitter to get into the hearing, or paying for Pre-Check to move faster through the airport.
“Despite what some of my colleagues sometimes seem to think, prioritization is not a dirty word,” she told the attendees of the hearing—which is necessary because FCC Chariman Ajit Pai and his fellow Republican commissioners killed net neutrality rules last year, ending the previous ban on paid prioritization.
The net neutrality rules the Federal Communication Commission voted to eliminate in December prohibited ISPs from blocking or throttling legal content and banned the practice of paid prioritization, or “fast lanes.”
In the case of fast lanes, online content providers like Netflix, Twitch, or Facebook could pay ISPs additional fees to have their content delivered at greater speeds to customers. Seems fair, right? The problem is, dividing the internet into those who pay for full speed and those who don’t by definition creates a low-tier internet and puts greater power in the hands of ISPs to decide the Haves and Have Nots in the online economy. This is bad for startups that might create a better version of, say, Spotify but lack the cash to tap into ISP fast lanes, and it’s bad for you and me because it could limit the content choices we have by killing off alternative services before they have a chance to really compete.
While Blackburn seemed to make a compelling case in her statement—essentially saying that people pay to skip lines all the time, so it’s totally fine to legitimize the practice in newer mediums—paying money to skip ahead, whether it be at New York’s JFK Airport, Disney World, or through a Comcast connection—is a supremely shitty thing to do. It gives those who pay extra a great benefit to the detriment of everyone else.
Sure, having Pre-Check means I never have to take my laptop out when I travel, but I am still an asshole skipping the line because I had 85 bucks to spare one time. When I was younger and didn’t have the cash, nothing filled me more consistently with a primal rage than watching people pay the government money to get through security faster. For a country that loves to intone that “all men are created equal,” Pre-Check and other forms of government-sanctioned paid priority should be an anathema. Instead they are an emblem of America’s inequality. To allow ISP fast lanes would let this unfairness infect the internet as well.