Move to roll back net neu­tral­ity is a mis­take

The Buffalo News - - CONTINUED FROM THE COVER - By Martha Buyer Martha Buyer is an at­tor­ney in East Aurora.

The FCC is poised to take ac­tion next week to in­val­i­date the Obama-era Open In­ter­net Order. Even the way that the act has been ti­tled, “The Restor­ing In­ter­net Free­dom Act,” is of­fen­sive to those who believe there are greater goods than share­holder re­turn. This ac­tion will harm con­sumers – both in­di­vid­ual and en­ter­prise – in sig­nif­i­cant, costly and painful ways.

It’s not about restor­ing in­ter­net free­dom. It’s sim­ply about aban­don­ing a reg­u­la­tory struc­ture that has re­stricted the big­gest play­ers from con­trol­ling ac­cess to con­tent (both in terms of speed and con­tent it­self), and let­ting the mar­ket go where it will. Here, the rich get richer and the un­der­served, many of whom saw a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion as a pos­i­tive force for change in their worlds, get left fur­ther be­hind.

To move the reg­u­la­tory regime of the in­ter­net back to the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion and thus change the reg­u­la­tory au­thor­ity un­der which its use is man­aged, is a step huge back­ward made in the name of “in­cen­tives to in­no­vate.” Chang­ing the le­gal clas­si­fi­ca­tion of broad­band in­ter­net back to an in­for­ma­tion service will al­low the big play­ers (Spec­trum, AT&T, Ver­i­zon and other large in­ter­net service providers) to be­have in a much less re­spon­si­ble way to­ward con­sumers in the name of the free mar­ket.

Un­der the pro­posed rules, in­ter­net service providers will be re­quired to be trans­par­ent. Sort of. ISPs will be re­quired to iden­tify their prac­tices to the pub­lic and the FCC, but they will not be pre­vented from throt­tling, block­ing and pri­or­i­tiz­ing paid con­tent. Es­sen­tially, if your ISP wants to you see its con­tent, but charges you to see a com­peti­tor’s con­tent, or de­nies ac­cess to com­peti­tors’ con­tent al­to­gether, as long as the ISP’s prac­tices are dis­closed, con­sumers (in­di­vid­ual or en­ter­prise) are con­sid­ered in­formed.

Many states and lo­cal­i­ties find the pro­posed new reg­u­la­tory struc­ture un­ten­able, but the new order pre­vents them from en­act­ing laws that of­fer net neu­tral­ity-like pro­tec­tions to those who live and work within their ju­ris­dic­tions. States may still have a role in the en­force­ment process, but only to the ex­tent that such ac­tions taken are con­sis­tent with “fed­eral reg­u­la­tory ob­jec­tives.”

Those com­mu­ni­ties that are mo­ti­vated to pro­vide broad­band where few – if any – op­tions ex­ist for even get­ting the most ba­sic ser­vices should be alarmed by this mar­ket-based turn as well. Ru­ral high-speed broad­band will never make fi­nan­cial sense in and of it­self. It is only with a pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship that those in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties have a chance of get­ting what the rest of us take for granted.

With the mar­ket al­lowed to run un­fet­tered, ru­ral con­sumers, and those in high-cost de­liv­ery ar­eas, will find them­selves left be­hind once again.

Please let the FCC chair and his Repub­li­can com­mis­sion­ers (who sup­port the aban­don­ment of net neu­tral­ity) know that this is­sue war­rants care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion be­yond the sim­plis­tic claim that the ex­ist­ing rules sti­fle in­no­va­tion. Time and again, this ar­gu­ment has proven it­self to be noth­ing more than pif­fle. It still is.

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