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Net neutrality topic of field hearing at UNH

By KIMBERLEY HAAS
Union Leader Correspondent
May 03. 2018 10:02PM
U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, listens to concerns raised by business leaders during a field hearing on the impact of the repeal of net neutrality Thursday. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)



Nancy Pearson and Robert Zakon listen as MJ Shoer talks about net neutrality during a field hearing at UNH Thursday morning. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)
DURHAM - Small businesses and startup companies will be burdened by the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality protections, according to panelists who participated in a field hearing on the issue.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, hosted the event at the University of New Hampshire Thursday morning. About 35 people turned out to see what she and small business leaders from across the state had to say about the barriers that would be presented if broadband providers are allowed to abandon the principle of net neutrality.

In December 2017, the FCC voted to do away with regulations commonly referred to as net neutrality.

Net neutrality is the idea that all content on the internet should be treated the same - that providers cannot block or slow down speeds for competitors' websites or content or add fees for consumers to access certain content.

Some members of Congress are hoping to challenge the FCC ruling and several state attorneys general have sued over the ruling.

Advocates say net neutrality is of particular concern in New Hampshire, where many communities have only one internet provider.

MJ Shoer, director of client engagement for Onepath, said in 1995 he was a principal in the first dial-up internet service provider in Portsmouth.

“In a matter of days, not months, not weeks, but literally days, we had multiple competitors which opened up and there was quite a bit of choice in Portsmouth at the time. Now, fast forward 23 years and there is almost no choice. In the city of Portsmouth, it's really Comcast if you want high speed internet access,” Shoer said.

Joshua Cyr, director of acceleration and education at Alpha Loft, talked about the perspective of startup businesses.

“The repeal of net neutrality protections enables a small handful of very powerful internet providers tremendous control over what is delivered to consumer's homes and the speed at which it is delivered. Without net neutrality the power and control these internet providers have will allow them to create artificial market barriers,” Cyr said.

Cyr said page speed is so important Google factors it into ranking during searches. Cyr said people starting new companies may feel that slow website speeds will hurt their bottom line and invest money that should be used on other more fundamental parts of their business under a pay to play system.

Nancy Pearson, the director of New Hampshire Center for Women and Enterprise, said net neutrality is a matter of equality.

“New Hampshire small businesses and microbusinesses rely on the equalizing force of the internet, and just to put that into perspective, women start businesses at five times the rate of any other entrepreneur and for minority women and veterans that number is even higher,” Pearson said. “So, when we start putting additional barriers in the way of these entrepreneurs it can have a significant and, I think, disastrous effect.”

Lisa Drake, director of sustainability innovation at Stonyfield Farm, said net neutrality affects everyone, even dairy farmers who sell their products to the organic yogurt manufacturer in Londonderry.

“Technology is influencing farming as much as it is in any other parts of the economy,” Drake said.

Rounding out the group of panelists were Robert Zakon, who innovates and applies emerging technologies across the intelligence, defense, health care and scientific sectors; and Zach Luse, founder and CEO of Paragon Digital Marketing.

Participants at the hearing said the FCC's decision will affect not only businesses, but institutes of higher education and efforts to provide telemedicine to patients who do not have access to services locally.

Shaheen used the example of the veterans administration's outpatient clinic in Littleton where telemedicine is used to provide psychologists and psychiatric care to vets in need.

Participants said bipartisan legislation needs to be put into place so the FCC cannot meddle with net neutrality.

Shaheen said after the event that she decided to host the field hearing because Congress will be reviewing the FCC's decision soon and she wanted to hear how the repeal of net neutrality would affect local businesses and UNH.


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