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Will Internet be "Pay to Play?"

PHOTO: Watchdog groups say a proposal to allow some Internet users faster speeds for higher prices runs counter to the Internet's purpose as an open forum for ideas and information. Photo credit: Ronstik/iStockphoto.com
PHOTO: Watchdog groups say a proposal to allow some Internet users faster speeds for higher prices runs counter to the Internet's purpose as an open forum for ideas and information. Photo credit: Ronstik/iStockphoto.com
April 28, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. - Creating a "pay to play" system runs counter to what the Internet has been from the beginning, according to a watchdog group. Norman Solomon, co-founder of RootsAction.org, said thousands of people are signing petitions protesting a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposal that would allow broadband Internet providers to give content providers, like Netflix or ESPN, faster download speeds for higher prices - prices that would no doubt be passed on to customers.

"We're basically telling the FCC that we need an open Internet - that it shouldn't be 'payola,' it shouldn't be big corporations that have the money get to go in the 'fast lane,' and people without the money have to chug along in a big traffic jam on the Internet," Solomon said.

The disagreement is about a lot more than who'll be able to stream movies faster, he said. He sees it as a fundamental matter of free speech - whether providers can decide to limit some users' content, or at least, slow it down.

"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. You've got to have the free circulation of ideas and information - that's really what this open Internet fight is all about," he explained.

The FCC decision is expected on May 15, but chairman Tom Wheeler has indicated he's leaning toward allowing an Internet fast lane. So, in the next two weeks, public interest groups say they'll push back hard.

In January, more than 1 million people signed a petition advocating a free and open Internet - and many thought that would be enough to convince the five FCC commissioners. Solomon pointed out they could still vote to protect "net neutrality."

"There still is a chance - if there's enough pressure - that the Commission could rule that the Internet is basically a public utility, by any other name, and therefore should function in the public interest," he said.

A petition by RootsAction.org and the group Demand Progress collected more than 40,000 signatures over the weekend.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR