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Killing Net Neutrality Is A Horrible Idea

Above Photo: Flickr/ Arbeitskreis Vorratsdaten

It’s no surprise that new Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai wants to do away with the basic principle that all Internet data should be treated equally by broadband providers, such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T. He’s a former Verizon lawyer, as President Trump was well aware.

The shock will be if Congress allows the FCC to kill net neutrality, the principle that’s as important to the Internet as the First Amendment is to free speech. The tech industry and consumers have common ground here. They need to join forces to derail the plan. The only alternative is to fight Pai and the FCC in the courts.

Pai on Wednesday revealed his proposal to roll back the Obama administration’s rules that ensured what was widely viewed as “the strongest Internet protections” in tech history. Former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s order prevented giving broadband service providers a free hand to block or give preference to websites at will.

Website and Internet companies, including the likes of Google, Facebook and Netflix, strongly support retaining net neutrality. But it’s the thousands of small startups creating the next wave of Internet innovation that are the chief concern.

The beauty of a free and open Internet is the guarantee that small companies can compete on a level playing field with the Internet content behemoths. Pai’s proposal means Internet service providers can charge higher rates for content providers in exchange to access for the fastest Internet speeds. The FCC chair is well aware that the U.S. market for broadband providers already gives the vast majority of Americans little or no choice of cable internet providers. Many European consumers, in contrast, have access to as many as a half-dozen providers.

The ISPs argue that they can be trusted to not “block, throttle or otherwise interfere with consumers’ desire to go where they want on the Internet.” If that is true, they should join consumers and tech firms in supporting net neutrality.

It isn’t just consumer access that is at stake. More than one tech expert has noted that Pai’s proposal threatens consumer privacy protections that were built into the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules. By classifying ISPs as common carriers, it meant that the likes of Comcast, Verizon and AT&T would be prevented from collecting and selling users’ browsing histories. ISPs must be drooling over Pai giving them the potential to rake in money from that $80 billion industry — at the expense of consumers’ privacy.

For the better part of the past three decades, the tech community has been united in the core principle that all people should have equal opportunity for equal access to all information on the Internet. The tech industry and consumers should join the fight to retain a free and open Internet.


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