ON THURSDAY, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is scheduled to vote on a proposal that could fundamentally undermine Internet freedom. This proposal — a sudden turnaround from the FCC’s traditional commitment to preserving an open Internet — would erode the web’s role as a springboard for entrepreneurship, free speech and global leadership. It would end net neutrality.
Net neutrality is the simple principle that lawful content on the Internet should be equally accessible to everyone, and that Internet service providers, such as Comcast, Verizon and others that own networks, should not be allowed to discriminate against some content providers. It means these Internet service providers shouldn’t be able to create a “two-speed” Internet, where bigger companies pay for faster speeds, or where customers have to pay more to receive quick service.
The FCC’s change in policy came after a January federal court decision that struck down FCC rules prohibiting content blocking because of a technical legal issue. I joined colleagues to support the Open Internet Preservation Act of 2014, a temporary fix to allow the FCC time to rewrite its rules and defend net neutrality. But as we recently found out, that’s not what the FCC has chosen to do, and it is instead moving quickly in the wrong direction.
The new FCC proposal would let network owners create “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” for web content, allowing some pages, apps and videos to load faster than others. It could even lead to an Internet that looks more like cable TV, with “channels” of content. Internet service providers would gain unprecedented control over what content consumers could access.
This plan would change our economy, where tech innovation remains a bright spot. The Internet has allowed the proud tradition of American ingenuity and entrepreneurship to reach every corner of the globe. Its openness has enabled a new generation of innovators to turn a bright idea and a laptop into a business. The last thing our recovering job market needs now is for these engines of growth to be slowed.
But without the guarantee of network neutrality, the Internet superhighway’s rules of the road will favor big tech businesses over newer startups. That’s why a coalition of venture capitalists wrote to the FCC last week, warning that putting fledgling companies in the slow lane will discourage investment, and with it, innovation.
In New Hampshire, we have made significant progress in expanding access to the Internet. The Recovery Act (stimulus), which I helped pass in 2009, supported a broadband push that has connected our schools, community centers, and rural areas. This project recently finished constructing 865 miles of fiber-optic cable in all ten counties to connect users to broadband. Now we need to defend the quality of that access, which has reached 97 percent of Granite Staters.
Back in 2012, during the successful fight to prevent the overreaches of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), we saw that the Internet is a powerful tool for preserving its own democratic governance. Now we have come to another crossroads in the Internet’s history.
We all need to speak up. Congress must act to preserve an open Internet, one that enhances, not limits, our ability to exercise free speech and entrepreneurship.
Carol Shea-Porter represents New Hampshire’s 1st District in Congress.