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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, December 03, 2017 1:00 am

Internet access: Congress must intervene

Courtney Tritch

Small business owners, how do you feel about your website being blocked or slowed because bigger companies are paying internet providers more than you are? Consumers, how do you feel about having internet providers decide which content you are able to access based on who is lining their wallets? If this feels like an infringement on your consumer rights and a giant blow to free speech, we are definitely on the same page. And yet, the Federal Communications Commission has unveiled a plan that would let all of the above happen by repealing what is called net neutrality regulation.

If you're unfamiliar with the phrase, net neutrality is the phrase to describe consumer protections by the FCC that allow you, the consumer, to be in charge of your internet experience. It prohibits internet providers such as AT&T, Verizon or Comcast from speeding up, slowing down or blocking content from you. In this instance, regulation is really a fancy word for protection. Net neutrality protects consumers from having content dictated to them by big telecom companies.

Do you trust your internet provider to be in charge of information that gets filtered to you? What about the information that gets filtered to students? The internet has become a part of the daily lives of nearly all Americans, and it is heavily integrated into our education system. We use the internet to fact check current events and news stories, research diverse and unfiltered information, and form our own opinions. But what if the FCC goes through with its intended repeal? A key aspect of our current net neutrality laws is that they prevent internet providers from censoring certain websites or content with which they disagree.

Removing these laws would open up the internet to all kinds of censorship, from stifling innovation (such as in 2007-09 when AT&T tried to block access to Skype for iPhone users) to internet providers filtering content and only showing you what big businesses pay them to show you. Or worse, only showing you content that one political party wants you to see.

This issue affects every consumer in this country, but it also affects businesses. The invention of the internet went a long way in opening up new avenues for small businesses to succeed. Without net neutrality, small businesses and start-ups will suffer. When I started my consulting business, the first thing I did was create a website and spread the word on social media. I chose to do that because it is effective and extremely low cost.

But with this new plan, internet companies could decide that unless I can afford to pay high fees for premium services, they will slow down my loading speeds or even block content on my site completely. While proponents of repealing net neutrality say that was government overreach, I would push back on that: Isn't one of the roles of government to protect Americans? To protect consumers?

In an interview by The Nation, former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said, “There can be no truly open internet without net neutrality. To believe otherwise is to be captive to special interest power brokers or to an old and discredited ideology that thinks monopoly and not government oversight best serves the nation.”

Fair and equal access to information on the internet is the only way to avoid that happening, and a service as vital as internet access shouldn't be up to the latest whim of the current administration (whether that be Republican or Democrat). We need Congress to take this important topic on and stand up for the rights of American consumers and small businesses. We must enact legislation that would provide long-term stability and direction for internet services. 

Courtney Tritch is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Indiana's 3rd District congressional seat.