For people who ventured onto the internet in the past week, odds are high that they were greeted with an urgent message to protect net neutrality that’s under attack.

The colorful graphics and dire language underscored an important message: The idea of a free and open internet that treats all traffic the same – without providers blocking, slowing or charging for particular content – would be wounded or eliminated under a plan released last week by the Federal Communications Commission.

The internet has become the great connecter for communicating, regardless of geography, and the great equalizer for businesses of all sizes. Widespread, affordable internet access has grown from a luxury into a necessity, one that must be preserved and protected.

The plan, as introduced by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a former counsel for Verizon, would end provisions that bar internet service providers from prioritizing or slowing particular websites and reassign regulatory authority to the Federal Trade Commission. The measure is expected to pass.

Telecom giant Comcast, which had previously expressed support for rescinding net neutrality regulations, recently launched an ad campaign that promised the company would not “block, throttle or discriminate against lawful content.” The desire of major internet service providers to have this ability, though, undermines their argument.

Under the proposed structure without the net neutrality safeguards, internet service providers would have the ability to levy additional fees beyond subscription costs to access online content. A Forbes columnist likened the structure to bundling charges to use certain websites to that of cable channels.

A country where internet subscribers would have to pay extra to access Facebook and Twitter, where the quality of streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu were determined by how much extra one paid, where small businesses faced additional financial hurdles to maintain a digital presence – all of that would be permitted under weaker or nonexistent net neutrality laws.

Many of the tech companies whose services are now ubiquitous to the point of being a verb – including Google, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Airbnb, Spotify and Reddit – have expressed staunch opposition to the FCC’s plan since day one. That’s why companies of all shapes and sizes correctly pointed out their ability to start and conduct business online would face serious disadvantages in a pay-to-play internet.

This isn’t a matter of partisan politics; it’s one of fundamental fairness to American consumers and businesses.

In a world where so much communication and commerce are conducted online, the freedom to continue operating in a free, open and content-neutral internet is a must. As such, the existing net neutrality measures must be allowed to remain in place.

—Journal Star, Nov. 28, 2017

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