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Other View: Leave net neutrality protections in place

If you know net neutrality refers to the regulations that assure equal access to the Internet, you're ahead of the curve — and of most people. And if you care about freedom on the Internet, net neutrality definitely matters. The Nation magazine called it "the First Amendment of the Internet."

The Internet, as we all know, is as vital to life in the 21st century as electric power, water, and sewer service. It makes everything possible, from video-chatting to, in some instances, turning on our front porch lights. People expect to receive the same level of access and service whether they live in rural Houston County, Minn., or in the heart of Houston, Texas.

For years, Internet champions have pushed for government to assure and protect that equal access; and in 2015, the Federal Communications Commission approved regulations to do that. The FCC classified broadband Internet as a "common carrier" telecommunications service, which keeps Internet service providers from manipulating access and selling speed and access to those companies who can pay for it.

Last week, the Trump administration's FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to reverse the net-neutrality regulations. Pai called them "last-century" rules that restrain development of the Internet, which he has called "the greatest free-market success story in history."

The Internet as a free-market phenomenon could be debated all day, but all of the major high-tech companies, from Google and Amazon to Facebook and Twitter — all entrepreneurial, free-market companies — profoundly disagree with the Trump FCC position on this. They say it will allow big telecom companies such as Charter, AT&T, and Verizon to charge higher rates to consumer Internet companies.

Those companies that can afford the higher rates inevitably will pass them along to consumers; those that can't will be pushed out.

That doesn't sound very free-market. It sounds as if the rich get richer, and the powerful get more powerful.

Rescinding net neutrality will "upset the careful balance that has led to the current virtuous circle of innovation in the broadband ecosystem," according to a filing by the companies listed above.

"The Internet should be competitive and open," according to a statement from Google. "That means no Internet access provider should block or degrade Internet traffic, nor should they sell 'fast lanes' that prioritize particular Internet services over others."

Facebook issued a statement last week that says the FCC move would fail to maintain "the strong net neutrality protections that will ensure the Internet remains open for everyone."

The five-member FCC, which has a Republican majority, will vote on the issue on Dec. 14. If you care about protections that keep the Internet free of commercial manipulation by giant Internet service providers, we encourage you to read more about the issue and get involved.

We believe net neutrality is a vital principle and the FCC has an appropriate role to play in protecting it.

— Post-Bulletin of Rochester, Minn.

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