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FCC Considers “Rules of the Road” for the Internet

October 21, 2009

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission meets to develop some "rules of the road" for the Internet, consumer protections that are known collectively as "net neutrality." They would prevent companies that operate the broadband network, such as AT&T and Comcast, from slowing or selectively blocking content on the World Wide Web.

Tim Karr, campaign director for the group SaveTheInternet.com, sees equal access to the Internet as critical to a healthy democracy.

"It's an infrastructure that we've got to guarantee certain protections to, so that it's not an infrastructure that's only provided to people who can pay their rate, but an infrastructure that's important to get out to everyone."

According to Karr, the United States has already fallen behind other developed countries, with nearly 40 percent of Americans lacking a high-speed Internet connection.

"Most of those people are lower-income, in rural areas; communities of color are also disproportionately offline. So, we have a challenge, not only to make sure that the Internet is open and free, but also to get more people connected."

To Amalia Deloney, coordinator of MAG-Net, a grassroots network of media justice advocates, net neutrality is about increasing Internet access, and not allowing management policies that have the potential to be restrictive.

"We know that we can't get to that place of having universal broadband that's affordable, accessible, all of those things, without really being able to deal with net neutrality. And so, we see net neutrality as a necessary step."

The new rules under FCC consideration would forbid service providers from blocking access to lawful traffic or their competitors' sites and require transparency for their own management policies. Opponents are concerned that the new regulations could hinder the development of the Internet; while supporters contend that without stronger rules, the Internet could fall prey to the very companies that deliver online services.

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA