OTHER VOICES: Public hearings needed on net neutrality

December 5, 2017

In less than two weeks, the Federal Communications Commission’s Republican majority will almost certainly pull the plug on what is known as net neutrality, which allows equal access to the internet for all users.

The end of the regulation will mean that internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile will have few worries about being penalized for engaging in paid prioritization, slowing service or curbing access to certain websites. In other words, broadband providers will have practically free reign to monetize the internet, which they certainly are anxious to do.

In return, the gatekeepers of the internet that have spent freely to lobby lawmakers like Sen. John Thune — whose PAC and campaign have received $366,000 in telecom contributions since 2013 — promise consumers transparency when they roll out new plans that offer various levels of service at different price points.

For example, your internet provider could decide to charge extra to allow a customer to see Netflix, a popular alternative to network and cable television shows, or to shop on Amazon, one of the companies opposing the termination of net neutrality.

Small businesses, internet businesses, freelancers and those with entrepreneurial aspirations have their own concerns about the elimination of net neutrality, as well. Twitter, Pinterest, Airbnb and 196 other companies recently sent a letter to the FCC outlining their concerns. “Businesses may have to pay a toll just to reach customers. This would put small and medium-sized businesses at a disadvantage and prevent innovative new ones from even getting off the ground,” the letter stated.

Ironically, the opponents of net neutrality say the elimination of the rule will allow more innovation on the internet although it would likely be limited to the telecoms that control the bandwidth, which is now regulated like a public utility.

Despite the legitimate concerns of businesses and consumers about the elimination of net neutrality and its impact on the economy and our lives, the FCC is rushing to make the change much like the Republican Party leadership did with its failed attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare and now with tax reform.

The FCC announced its new plan on Nov. 21 and plans to vote on it on Dec. 14. And as with health care and tax reform, no public hearings are being held. In addition, the opponents of net neutrality can offer no guarantees that service will improve, especially in a rural South Dakota community like Murdo, the hometown of Sen. Thune.

Instead, presidential appointees and politicians are offering promises that an unregulated internet largely controlled by large corporations will be a better internet. But most know what a politician’s promise is really worth to the public.

The end of net neutrality will affect every American and should not be neutralized without a public debate.