Politicians and the digital divide

Here in the United States it is important for elected officials to appeal to their voting base with issues that are concerning to them. Oftentimes these issues are related to health care, the economy, social security, education and war, among other social and public policy issues.

However, there seems to be one issue that promises a large disconnect with today’s younger voters and elected officials: net neutrality. There are many reasons why politicians seem to be on the wrong side of this debate. More often than not it’s an issue of money and campaign contributions.

Cable companies who have been fighting net neutrality, like Comcast, hold a lot of sway in Congress. Prior to the Federal Communications Commission’s ruling in favor of net neutrality this past February, many senators were fighting against the classification of the Internet as a public utility back in 2014.

Twenty-eight representatives signed letters to the FCC against this motion and, not surprisingly, all 28 of these representatives had received over $26,000 from the cable industry on average. Republicans who signed letters against this motion on average received more than $58,000 from cable companies. Greg Walden, the only Republican representative from the state of Oregon, has received more contributions from cable companies than any other representative in the House.

Comcast is the 25th most-held stock by members of our national legislature, and our former speaker of the house and current senate minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, owns more than any other person in congress.

Sadly, shacking up with cable companies is not only common among Washington politicians but also has lasting effects here in Oregon. Our new governor, Kate Brown, came under fire early this year regarding her previous support of Comcast, which was recently voted as the worst company in all of America. During her time as secretary of state she sent a letter supporting Comcast’s $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable to the FCC which was almost verbatim what Comcast asked her to say.

Today’s youth care about access to the Internet, so supporting a company that is directly fighting against keeping the Internet a level playing field is not a smart political move. Many of today’s youth might express no interest in international politics, but prevent them from binge watching Friends and Orange is the New Black on Netflix and you’ll have yourself another revolution.

While money in the hands of lawmakers is largely to blame for this trend, the age gap between today’s technologically literate youth and older lawmakers may cause this divide. In 2014, the average age of the U.S. House of Representatives was 57 with the Senate’s being 62. In the U.S. Congress there are five senators over the age of 80 and six representatives in the same demographic. These are congressmen who would have been attending college during the presidency of Eisenhower and would remember when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite into space.

I’m not saying that elected officials who are senior citizens and past the age of retirement don’t have anything to offer today’s youth, obviously their experience makes them a wealth of knowledge, and their wisdom far surpasses that of most. Nevertheless, when it comes to issues like net neutrality it seems that many politicians these days either have no idea what that is or are directly fighting against it, alienating younger and more technologically conscious voters.

Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden also endorsed the Comcast merger and, according to one person who contacted his office, he seemed unaware of Comcast’s reputation, didn’t quite grasp net neutrality and blindly signed the papers. While Odgen might be interested in learning more about the issues relating to the Internet, this lack of certainty shows a startling digital divide between most politicians and younger voters. Even presidential hopeful Ted Cruz seemed to have a weak understanding of what net neutrality is and was quick to denounce it as some form of invasive government overhaul, which it’s not.

If politicians want to continue getting elected and accurately represent their constituents they need to realize that issues such as net neutrality and fair access to the Internet is a cause that most millennials can get behind and will vote for.

So, to all you elected officials out there, brush up on that Internet literacy and stop supporting evil companies like Comcast because, so help me God, if you get between me and my late night YouTube surfing you will have lost my vote in a heartbeat.