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Internet Fast Lanes Could Limit Maine Access to "World Commons"

PHOTO: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, seen here (top left) at a meeting in January in Oakland, Calif., has signaled his support for rules that may threaten net neutrality by allowing broadband service to some companies at higher speed for higher prices. A pushback by opponents is forming quickly. Photo credit: Mark Scheerer.
PHOTO: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, seen here (top left) at a meeting in January in Oakland, Calif., has signaled his support for rules that may threaten net neutrality by allowing broadband service to some companies at higher speed for higher prices. A pushback by opponents is forming quickly. Photo credit: Mark Scheerer.
April 28, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine - Net neutrality defenders in New England and the nation are sending out distress signals about a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposal to create broadband speed lanes. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler previewed the pending change, which would allow Internet service providers like Comcast or Time Warner Cable to charge content providers such as ESPN or Netflix higher prices for faster download speeds.

Mike Hoefer, a New Hampshire Web designer and consultant, also contributes to the blog, "Blue Hampshire." He said the proposal could make it more expensive for businesses in small towns all over New England that use broadband to level their playing field.

"In a market that's dominated more and more by big players like Amazon and Walmart, broadband allows small, niche businesses to get their goods online in their small town of 300 people," Hoefer said.

Between now and May 15, when the FCC will formally act, numerous public interest groups are plotting push-back efforts, including petitions, pressure on members of Congress and public protests.

'amalia deloney,' policy director, Center for Media Justice, said her group's supporters participated in a Tweet chat last week that included two FCC commissioners. The topic was women and technology, but she said concerns about net neutrality dominated the online conversation.

"Question after question, just constantly, was about what the commissioners were gonna do to protect women, to ensure they had fair and equal access on the Internet, to ensure that their start-up companies were able to thrive," deloney said.

Hoefer is also concerned about potential social costs of the FCC proposal. He said it could reduce access to what he called the world's "last great commons" - a place for the free exchange of ideas.

"My concern is that increased prices for businesses and/or increased price for consumers will restrict that access to the commons and make it more of a private playground, versus this great melting pot of information and technology," Hoefer said.

The proposal is particularly troubling for small New England towns, many of which have access to only one Internet provider, he added.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - ME