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'Internet Freedom' Showdown Brewing

PHOTO: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, seen here (top left) at a meeting in January in Oakland, Calif., has signaled his support for rules that would allow broadband service to some companies at higher speeds for higher prices. Opponents say Internet "fast lanes" just aren't fair. 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 would allow broadband service to some companies at higher speeds for higher prices. Opponents say Internet "fast lanes" just aren't fair. Photo credit: Mark Scheerer.
April 28, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Tens of thousands of people are signing petitions of protest about a plan being considered by the FCC, which 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.

Norman Solomon, co-founder of the group RootsAction.org, says creating a "pay to play" system runs counter to what the Internet has been from the beginning.

"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."

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

Solomon says the disagreement is about a lot more than who'll be able to stream movies faster. 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," 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."

In January, more than one million people signed a petition advocating a free and open Internet, and many thought that would be enough to convince the five FCC commissioners. And Solomon points 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 declared.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL