Over the next four months, the Federal Communications Commission is likely to hear an earful from Americans outraged over the prospect of a “fast lane” connection for websites willing and able to pay top dollar to Internet service providers. Here’s an excerpt from The New York Times’ news coverage of Thursday’s contentious meeting in Washington, D.C.:
While the plan is meant to prevent data from being knowingly slowed by Internet providers, it would allow content providers to pay for a guaranteed fast lane of service. Some opponents of the plan argue that allowing some content to be sent along a fast lane would essentially discriminate against content not sent along that lane.
Shortly after Thursday’s 3-2 party-line vote opened the public comment period, a few dozen protesters gathered outside the regulator’s Seattle field office. Similar rallies were planned to take place at FCC bureaus around the country. To the surprise of local attendees, the Seattle office is not staffed and its last-known address is located in a Kirkland business park with no public access. According to a Kirkland Reporter news story, the regional office no longer exists.
I went to the rally and caught some of the action on a Flip Mino camera. Two raw, unedited videos are posted below. One features an interview with rally host and concerned citizen David Swaintek. In the second, protesters with backgrounds in the arts, computer science, teaching, therapy, medicine, architecture, etc. spoke up about the importance of maintaining an open Internet.
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Net neutrality is a complex issue. Lawmakers and FCC commissioners keep saying they support an Internet where the next YouTube, Facebook or Netflix has a chance to enter the market, yet they are considering policies that would likely prevent this from happening. The disagreement is over whether and how to regulate broadband. Many Republicans and broadcasters would prefer a hands-off approach. Others, including The Seattle Times editorial board in a May 11 editorial, favor ensuring an open Internet by reclassifying broadband as a “common carrier.”
On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., greeted the FCC’s decision to move forward with a healthy dose of skepticism.“Two-tiered Internet is unacceptable,” she said in an emailed statement. “Americans don’t pay different rates for slow or fast telephone service and shouldn’t for the Internet either.”
Democratic U.S. Reps. Derek Kilmer and Rick Larsen did not come out as strongly as Cantwell, but they encouraged the public to engage with the FCC.
“There is a real risk to consumers and to innovation if the internet and its content becomes restricted due to artificial slowing of access or the ability to pay for basic services we now take for granted,” Kilmer stated. “Our competitiveness and economic growth will be highly dependent on finding ways to promote innovation, strengthen consumers’ ability to utilize services, and maintain our ability to invest in network infrastructure. The FCC’s proposal marks the beginning of a dialogue and I think it will be important for the public to weigh in to ensure a system that will protect consumers and drive innovation.”