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Editorial: Goodbye to an open Internet?

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The Internet as we know it is at a crossroads – there may soon be serious changes one way or the other.

The catch phrase is “net neutrality,” and if it makes your eyes glaze over, snap out of it – this is important.

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Here’s how Sen. Al Franken describes it:

“Net neutrality (is) the principle that all Internet traffic must be treated equally. Net neutrality is embedded in the foundational architecture of the Internet, and it has served us well.

“Because of net neutrality, an email from my constituent in rural Minnesota gets to me as quickly as an email from my bank.

“Because of net neutrality, the website for the small neighborhood hardware store loads just as quickly as that of a major retail chain.

“Because of net neutrality, you were able to access this op-ed, even if your Internet provider doesn’t like what I have to say.”

Net neutrality, Franken says, has made the Internet a platform for innovation and economic growth.

“For example, YouTube started as a relatively small outfit above a pizzeria in a strip mall. YouTube wanted to compete with Google, which had an online video product called Google Video (later Google Videos).

“Net neutrality guaranteed that YouTube’s and Google’s videos would travel to consumers at the same speeds.

“Google wasn’t able to pay for a fast lane or any other unfair advantage. Even though Google was a bigger, wealthier, more established company, it had to compete with YouTube on a level playing field. And YouTube ultimately won because it offered a better product.

“That’s what net neutrality is all about. There’s not one Internet for deep-pocketed corporations and a separate Internet for everyone else - there’s the Internet, and it belongs to all of us.

“That’s the way it’s always been. And that’s the way it should continue to be.” The Federal Communications Commission is now in the hot seat.

It had to propose new rules after a federal appeals court shot down the agency’s earlier net neutrality regulations, which said pay-for-priority deals “would raise significant cause for concern,” according to Reuters news agency.

To comply with the court, the new proposal suggests some pay-for-priority deals may be allowed, but also asks whether “some or all” such deals can be banned.

It all depends on how the new FCC rules are written. Democrats hold a 3-2 majority on the FCC, but Franken, also a Democrat, had few kind words for FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal.

“Chairman Wheeler’s proposal would put start-ups and small businesses at a huge disadvantage,” Franken said in an opinion piece. “And the new costs created by this scheme will be passed along to consumers, who already are being squeezed by their cable and Internet bills.

“Big corporations will win; everyone else will lose. Americans never have tolerated this sort of thing, and we shouldn’t start now, especially as the biggest Internet providers are trying to get even bigger through megamergers.”

The two Republican FCC members, who voted against the plan, said that it exceeded the agency’s legal authority, that there had been no evidence of actual harm or deviation from net neutrality principles and that elected members of Congress should decide the issue, not regulatory appointees, according to the New York Times.

One possible solution, disliked by most Republicans in Congress and the FCC, is for the FCC to reclassify Internet providers as utilities, like telephone companies, rather than as the less-regulated information services they are now.

To comment on the FCC proposal, go to openinternet@fcc.gov. You have until July 15 to submit initial comments on the proposal to the commission, and until Sept. 10 to file comments replying to the initial discussions.

FORUM NEWS SERVICE

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