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Another Voice: Move to roll back net neutrality is a mistake

By Martha Buyer

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.

Martha Buyer is an attorney in East Aurora.

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