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What is Net Neutrality and why should ASTE members care?

Sam BNet Neutrality is a simple concept the vast majority of our population supports and believes should be protected at all costs. The Chairman of the FCC officially supports it, too: “Preserving the Internet as an open platform for innovation and expression while providing certainty and predictability in the marketplace is an important responsibility of this agency.” (STATEMENT BY FCC CHAIRMAN TOM WHEELER ON THE FCC’S OPEN INTERNET RULES, FEBRUARY 19, 2014)

So if everyone agrees to the concept, what is there to talk about?

The problem with the statements of the FCC Director is that it is just that: a statement and not action. It would appear as though the FCC is entertaining just the opposite: a plan to allow for tiered access from ISPs, cable companies, and phone companies to specific content providers. Essentially, the ISP could offer exclusive deals to a certain news organizations, prime access for a media streaming organization, or generally sell varied levels of priority to any provider they choose.

Some might say this is like your local municipality creating a toll road across downtown. You can drive on the freeway at no cost (other than your tax dollars of course) or choose to save a few minutes and spend $2 on the toll road. It is not the same at all, though. Think of it more like “someone setting up a toll road on the edge of your town to raise the price of groceries.” (Shirky/Walters, ideas.ted.com) You already have the internet and you already pay for it. Now the ISP wants to charge the providers for the way they deliver it to you.

If the intention is for the ISPs to make more money and the vast majority of Americans want to keep it free, then surely the Chairman of a government agency, appointed by our elected officials, will support our goals and not theirs. This is our hope as Americans, but it is not a forgone conclusion. The facts are troubling in this particular case. Tom Wheeler, the current FCC Chairman, is a former lobbyist for the ISPs and even served as an executive in some of these companies.

From Chairman Wheeler’s official webpage:
Between 1979 and 1984, Wheeler was chief executive of the National Cable Television Association (a job now held by, once again, Michael Powell). From 1992 until 2004, he headed up the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, which represents cell-phone operators.

Our job as voters and citizens is to make our voices heard. Please take the time to read the discussions now ongoing within the FCC and comment through the following portals:

• Read about the “Open Internet” initiative here.
• Read the comments of 14-28 & 09-191 and make your opinions known.

If you have further thought on this or other issues, please comment below or email Sam Bourgeois at sam.bourgeois@aste.org.