John Oliver started his latest frantically staccato, furiously British, funny-but-informative-thus-typically-unsettling segments with something you may remember fondly, as if it happened a very long time ago: a screaming goat interjecting in the chorus of Taylor Swift’s “Trouble.” The goat in question was a phenomenon as recently as 2014, but it feels like a fossil — the Internet, and its processes of obsolescence, seems to alter our notions of time… and of reality itself. This power was on full display during the election, with the polarization of people’s news feeds into separate realities, and each of those realities’ tendency to label other realities as “fake news.”
This command over reality is one reason that threats to net neutrality are so scary. It’s why John Oliver devoted a 20-minute segment to it — beginning with that video of a goat screaming between Taylor Swift lyrics — on this weekend’s Last Week Tonight. As Oliver mentioned last night, he first made a segment on the importance of net neutrality on his show’s fifth ever episode, three years ago. The future of net neutrality had seemed uncertain then, but the Federal Communications Commission subsequently cracked down on Internet service providers’ desires to limit and manipulate your access to information online for their own financial gain; they classified ISPs as “common carriers” under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which restricted ISPs abilities to prioritize traffic arbitrarily. (There’s a good explainer on the subject here.)
Unsurprisingly, though, the Trump administration seeks to roll back Obama era net neutrality. That much was made abundantly clear after Trump appointed Ajit Pai — a former Verizon lawyer who wants to “fire up the a weed whacker” against current FCC rules — as the FCC Chairman. The appointment recalls Trump’s choice of Scott Pruitt — who’ll defend corporations over the environment, and who used to make a hobby of suing the Environment Protection Agency — as the EPA’s leader, and more generally, this administration’s apparent desire to undo every single remotely positive thing Obama’s government ever achieved. (“I genuinely would not be surprised if one night Trump went on TV just to tell us that he personally killed every turkey Obama ever pardoned,” says Oliver, of the Trump administration’s seeming knee-jerk desire to indiscriminately undo all Obama policies.)
On his show last night, Oliver left it up to YouTube “personality” Tay Zonday to explain net neutrality for those who still have trouble understanding the implications of the term: “If you like to use Google and your roommate likes to use Bing, your provider can’t slow down Google and Yahoo to make Bing load fast.” Oliver stressed, however, that it’s about “more than just speed” — ISPs like Comcast, Verizon, Charter, etc. could, with a repeal of net neutrality regulations, perform “any kind of fuckery” that changes your ability to get the information you’re looking for — or at least to get it from places that haven’t fought to get their material to the front of your search ranking by paying off ISPs.
“Pai’s main argument,” explained Oliver, “is that we don’t need Title II to have net neutrality. But some of his ideas for what to have instead are almost laughably lax.” One idea is having ISPs “voluntarily agree” not to obstruct access, an idea that our hero described as “[making] net neutrality as binding as a proposal on the bachelor.” He emphasizes that the FCC are seeking the comments of the public on their website, but explains that they’re simultaneously making commenting pretty complicated — it’s almost as if they didn’t want to hear dissent! In one of his mischievous twist endings (which both help his shit go viral, but unlike, say, Fallon’s viral-ready content, are actually relevant to something), Oliver revealed that he’s made a URL that takes you directly to the FCC page where you can input your comments: the wryly-named gofccyourself.com.
Watch the segment: