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Internet 'Fast Lanes' Bad News For Rural Consumers

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. Critics say that's bad news for rural areas already struggling to get decent Internet connections. 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. Critics say that's bad news for rural areas already struggling to get decent Internet connections. Photo credit: Mark Scheerer.
April 28, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has signaled his intention to allow broadband Internet service providers to charge content providers more for faster download speeds. Critics of that plan say it would make it harder to connect rural areas, and create Internet "fast lanes" for preferred customers.

Todd O'Boyle, program director for the group Common Cause, says that would result in discrimination based on location and price.

"At a time when we should be creating policies that will expand broadband to all Americans, no matter what corner of the country they live in, instead we're looking at ways to restrict broadband," he asserted.

Internet service providers such as Comcast or Time Warner Cable have argued the policy is a way for them to deal with companies like Netflix that take huge amounts of bandwidth. But Norman Solomon, co-founder of RootsAction.org, a group with an online petition protesting Internet fast lanes, says it's a fundamental matter of free speech.

"If we're going to have a meaningful First Amendment, that means that we don't let these huge corporations sit on the windpipe of that First Amendment," he said. "You've got to have the free circulation of ideas and information: that's really what this open Internet fight is all about."

Some have concerns that the policy would give the big online gatekeepers power to limit free speech, unfairly diminish competition, or limit access geographically for political reasons. And Todd O'Boyle says it would mean higher costs, especially for consumers in areas that are not already well connected.

"If you allow broadband providers like Time Warner Cable or Verizon to charge special fees for fast lanes, yes: folks will be paying more, at the end of the day."

Between now and May 15, when the Federal Communications Commission will formally act, a raft of public interest groups are plotting pushback efforts that include petitions, pressure on members of Congress, and public protests.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - AR