By Mark C. Poloncarz and Patrick Burke
Recent FCC actions to strip away net neutrality have focused a light on the importance of unfettered internet access and the power of information to shape lives and communities. Readers may wonder what net neutrality is and why it matters, or how its loss will affect them. It’s imperative that the public understands what this means.
With the four national providers you currently are free to access any content on the internet. Upon repeal that will no longer be the case and providers will be allowed to offer differing levels of access on a sliding fee scale, so Americans would select from a bundle of packages, similar to cable television. How much you can pay would dictate what information you could see.
Additionally, providers will now have the power to amplify their own media platforms and websites while stifling others. Remember, the internet is something that no one company or person created on his or her own – it was a collaborative effort initiated by the government. Why should we allow providers to wield this much power over the consumers?
We have been working on this issue for three years and have made increasing internet speed, affordability and access a priority for Erie County, forming the Erie County Broadband Committee to complete an analysis of our region’s internet and communications assets. The results confirmed that our internet quality is not good enough.
Many areas – notably the inner city of Buffalo and rural areas – lack access to reliable high-speed broadband. Robust and expansive internet service is critical to improving economic development, public safety, education and more. Access to information should not be a privilege reserved for those who can pay the most, but should be the norm for all.
The public safety impacts of a constricted internet are sobering to think about. Potentially life-saving information could be curtailed in the event of a catastrophic weather event or a terrorist attack, and losing net neutrality would place obstacles in the way of getting vital information when seconds matter most. Public safety should not have a price point, and corporate profits should never take precedence over saving lives.
In education an unfettered and fully built-out internet would provide informational equality to students and teachers wherever they are, bringing rural and underserved urban populations on par with their wealthier suburban counterparts. Disparities in quality and quantity of information erode our educational system, creating an unequal process that benefits some but penalizes others.
The committee heard clearly that internet service is already too costly, uses dated technology and that consumers lack choices in providers. In opposition to the real danger that the repeal of net neutrality poses, Erie County must strive to develop a vigorous local network that is accessible to all and offers the information, opportunities and protections residents deserve.
Mark C. Poloncarz is Erie County executive. Patrick Burke, D-Buffalo, is an Erie County legislator.