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Rural Oregon Looks to FCC Vote on Open Internet

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Monday, February 23, 2015   

LAKEVIEW, Ore. - The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to classify the Internet as a public utility, allowing it to be more closely regulated to ensure fairness, or what is known as "net neutrality." But smaller Internet service providers are asking to be exempted if that happens.

In Oregon, rural towns like Lakeview are served by small companies that only provide Internet service, not phone or cable.

Tommie Dodd manages Tnet Broadband Internet, an ISP in Lake County with about 800 customers. Dodd says he's worried an FCC decision could mean more paperwork and expensive upgrades.

"We really don't know what the bottom line will be," Dodd says. "The American Cable Association, just in the last few days, has asked them to waive the rules for smaller ISPs but right now they include everything."

Dodd says he understands the appeal of faster Internet service, but notes it's more expensive to get fiber optic technology to remote areas, and the big providers haven't been interested. He also belongs to the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, which sent a letter this month to the FCC asking to exempt small providers that offer only broadband services.

Elsewhere across the country, supporters of the change held weekend rallies for a free and open Internet. Their concern is that without closer FCC regulation, the big Internet providers will continue to push for a tiered system that allows them to charge more money for faster speeds, which could compromise online access for those who can't afford it.

Dodd says rural companies like his can't afford to work that way, and they want the FCC to acknowledge it.

"In rural areas we do our job," he says. "We don't restrict anybody, we don't slow anything down. If somebody calls in and claims they're not getting their speed, we hop on it. What are they going to add to the conversation?"

Internet service in Oregon varies widely, and there are about 14 million rural Americans with no online access. Reclassifying the Internet as a utility might make serving them a bigger priority.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and President Barack Obama have both indicated they support the change.


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