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Sunday, Jan 22, 2017

Net neutrality a core principle

The success of the Internet is largely due to the fact that, since its inception, users have been able to pick and choose from all the material on it, regardless of the carrier used to access it.

This model has led to one of the greatest technological revolutions of all time. It is now in jeopardy because of a U.S. appeals court ruling last week that threw out the Federal Communications Commission’s 2010 rules requiring broadband providers to treat all Internet traffic equally — the concept known as net neutrality.

The ruling is reasonable under current law, but the FCC has the power to change its regulations and make net neutrality rules legal. It needs to act — and users need to rise up in large numbers to keep Congress on their side.

The problem is that current rules don’t classify these providers as common carriers, the way telephone service providers are viewed. The Supreme Court has signaled that the FCC could reclassify broadband providers to apply common carrier regulations on them, including net neutrality. That is what needs to happen.

Congress could step in, but that is a less unappealing alternative. The money and political power of broadband operators could well trump the public interest in keeping creativity, innovation and an open marketplace the working principles of the Internet.

Internet service providers such as AT&T and Verizon want the right to profit from the use of their services by individual websites, much like the current pay TV system operates.

They would like sites to pay a premium for high-speed streaming while others have access only to slower service. This would limit the accessibility of small businesses and startups, which consequently limit consumers’ choices.

An open Internet is a platform for innovation that is one of our most valuable technological resources. Consumers, not broadband providers acting as gatekeepers, should be able to decide which entrepreneurs succeed.

European nations and almost every other developed country in the world already regulate broadband providers as common carriers required to serve all customers equally. It seems so obviously right, but Congress, susceptible to lobbyists, may need persuading, if the FCC doesn’t act. That’s where Internet users come in.

They have raised their voices before. Two years ago SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, sparked the largest online protest in history because the bill backed by the entertainment industry essentially would have instituted censorship. The protest forced Congress to reject it.

Silicon Valley also has a role to play. Internet giants such as Google and Yahoo succeeded largely because of an open Internet. Everyone, from users to small businesses to valley behemoths, benefits from equal, open access to online material.