Is Net Neutrality Cyberpunk?

Reddit’s r/cyberpunk debates if it should take a stand against the corporate throttling of cyberspace.

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Jul 13 2017, 5:11pm

Image: Shutterstock / Composition: Ben Sullivan

The last few days have seen massive online demonstrations in favor of net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers should treat all online traffic equally. But they've also sparked a bit of an existential crisis over on r/cyberpunk, the subreddit dedicated to the drizzly, grimy, neon-drenched genre dominated by technology and pioneered by books like William Gibson's Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash.

"You know, I feel like /r/cyberpunk should take a stand towards net neutrality," user MxP1nk wrote in a July 12 post, pointing out the subreddit's relative silence on the issue on a day when Reddit, alongside hundreds of the internet's most popular websites and millions of users, took a stand against the Trump Administration's plans to dismantle federal rules safeguarding net neutrality.

"The current situation with the FCC looking to repeal net neutrality should be talked about more, especially on a community like this where the internet and communication play such a big role," the user went on.

This sparked a lengthy and ongoing debate within the subreddit, which boasts nearly 140,000 subscribers. Is net neutrality a cyberpunk issue? And if so, what can be done about it?

Many responders to MxP1nk's post highlighted that, by nature of its very name, the cyberpunk community ought to fight against any plans to abolish net neutrality.

"Cyberpunk is more than neon lights, rainy streets and cybernetics, or the Punk part of it is supposed to be anyway," said Reddit user M0rtis86. "It's meant to be about opposing big business deciding on what you have access to. Something like ditching net neutrality really is taking a step to the dystopian side of things."

Others joked about how to actually get cyberpunks to care about the issue.

"You've exceeded the number of neon lights your plan allows you to view. Please upgrade your internet package to continue viewing neon lights," quipped snailboy.

But to truly live in the dystopian world where cyberpunk thrives, in fiction at least, wouldn't the big, web-throttling corporations have to win first? That way, the intrinsic purpose of punk would come alive and have something to fight against.

"We have one of the building blocks of a cyberpunk dystopia materializing before our eyes," wrote blookies. "I think net neutrality not only should be here, but belongs here."

Blookies explained how corporations pushing deregulation that only gives them more power over the "common folk" is a trope already firmly in place in cyberpunk settings.

Read more: After Net Neutrality 'Day of Action,' Internet Activists Face a Tough Fight Ahead

I asked MxP1nk whether they really believed net neutrality has a home in a cyberpunk universe.

"Net neutrality, in itself, is not a cyberpunk issue, let me say that first," MxP1nk wrote me via a Reddit private message. "However, the prospect of that being taken away from the people is very much so."

"Considering cyberpunk has many themes of freeing information or taking back rights or what have you, that have been taken by greedy mega corporations, I would think the prospect of losing net neutrality is totally cyberpunk," MxP1nk added. "Even if, realistically, I would not want it to happen."

Obviously, at the end of the day, the fight for net neutrality affects anyone who uses the internet. And while protesters this week hailed the massive day of action a success, the fight is an uphill battle—one that will be fought alongside several other fictions-cum-realities we thought were firmly staying in the land of make-believe.

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