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Proposed Regulation Could Expand Internet in Rural West Virginia

PHOTO: Tom Wheeler (center), chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is seeking to regulate the Internet as a utility to ensure a level playing field for all Internet users. Photo courtesy Federal Communications Commission.
PHOTO: Tom Wheeler (center), chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is seeking to regulate the Internet as a utility to ensure a level playing field for all Internet users. Photo courtesy Federal Communications Commission.
February 5, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Internet use in West Virginia and across the nation soon may be regulated as a utility.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Tom Wheeler announced Wednesday he will seek to have the Internet regulated under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

Whitney Kimball Coe, program associate with the Center for Rural Strategies, says regulation should help ensure the Internet remains a level playing field.

"The ability to communicate and have access to places where you can contribute knowledge and also gain knowledge, that just seems to be a basic human right at this point," says Kimball Coe.

Under the proposed FCC regulations, broadband providers couldn't block or degrade access to legal online content, applications, or services. They also wouldn't be allowed to favor some Internet traffic over others - in other words, no "fast lanes."

Kimball Coe says regulating the Internet will also benefit rural residents by expanding broadband access.

"This move to Title Two, or classifying broadband or Internet as a utility, would really close that digital divide that exists between rural and urban," she says. "It would also allow the FCC to regulate the Internet in a way that would make sure that rural areas have service."

Internet providers have rejected such regulation, claiming it would harm investment and innovation, although Wheeler is promoting the plan as a way to encourage more innovation. The five-member commission is scheduled to vote on the proposed rules on Feb. 26.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV