Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, and Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, are members of the U.S. Senate. Tom Wheeler was FCC chairman from 2013 to January.
For as long as the Internet has existed, it has been grounded on the principle of net neutrality — that what you read, see or watch online shouldn’t be favored, blocked or slowed down based on where that content is coming from. Net neutrality means that cable companies can’t reserve the fastest Internet speeds for the biggest companies and leave everyone else in the slow lane. That’s what ensures a website for a local pizza place in rural Oregon or Minnesota loads as quickly as the website for Pizza Hut or Domino’s. Or why a social network built in a garage is available to the same people as Instagram or Twitter.
That’s why it’s so alarming to see that the Federal Communications Commission, a federal agency that’s expected to help protect the Internet, is planning to roll back net neutrality rules.
In the past few months, President Trump’s new FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, has already abandoned other important consumer protections: He backed out of a proposal to free people from having to rent expensive cable boxes, and he is trying to make it harder for low-income families to access affordable high-speed Internet. It’s amazing that Trump, having promised to stand up to the powerful on behalf of ordinary Americans, now has an FCC that gives the powerful what they ask for — even if it hurts consumers.
So with powerful forces pushing to get rid of net neutrality — Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and other multibillion-dollar companies — it’s going to take Americans speaking up to protect the Internet that we depend on. In 2014, nearly 4 million Americans contacted the FCC, with an overwhelming majority sending a very simple message: protect net neutrality. And as a result of those efforts, we got policies put in place to do just that. But now those very policies are on the chopping block. Unless people fight back, these deep-pocketed corporations will upend how we get our news, watch our favorite shows, use social media or run our businesses.
Net neutrality is good for consumers, small businesses and rural America. It creates jobs, especially at small businesses. The software that runs agricultural tools, the point-of-sale operating systems in our restaurants, the newest idea from a dorm room or a garage — all function in an Internet ecosystem that is equal and won’t allow Big Cable and others to prioritize one piece of Internet traffic over another.
Net neutrality also allows small businesses to compete against the largest, most profitable corporations. Here’s just one example. In 2005, three guys set up shop above a pizzeria in a strip mall in San Mateo, Calif., where they launched the now-ubiquitous YouTube. Video-sharing websites were in their infancy, but these guys already faced competition from something called Google Video.
Because of net neutrality, YouTube was able to contend with Google on a level playing field. Internet service providers treated YouTube’s videos the same as they did Google’s, and Google couldn’t pay the ISPs to gain an unfair advantage, like a fast lane into consumers’ homes. Well, it turned out that people liked YouTube a lot more than Google Video, so YouTube thrived. In fact, in 2006, Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion.
Small businesses shouldn’t have to outbid massive conglomerates just to get their product in front of consumers’ eyes. If net neutrality is gutted, only the biggest conglomerates will be able to pay for the fastest Internet speeds. In many ways, it’s our small, innovative, next-generation businesses that have the most to lose.
This isn’t just about high-tech innovation, though. The Internet is absolutely critical for rural communities. Access to high-speed Internet in rural areas supports jobs and businesses, of course, but it also affects things such as education and health care. Now, because of the Internet, our rural areas are better-connected than ever. Yes, there are still huge access gaps, but those gaps will become impossible to fill if we don’t protect the principles that have already made the Internet a driver of innovation and economic prosperity.
Big Cable and other opponents of net neutrality will try to argue that getting rid of these protections will somehow actually help consumers. Or they’ll argue that you can have an open Internet without net neutrality. That defies evidence and common sense.
The best way to protect consumers and small businesses on the Internet is to preserve net neutrality. And the only way to preserve net neutrality is to join together to speak out and fight back against this latest attack on the open Internet.
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