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Watchdog Groups Gear Up for Net-Neutrality Decision

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FCC proposals to roll-back net neutrality could hurt Maine consumers. (Twitter/@Motherboard).
FCC proposals to roll-back net neutrality could hurt Maine consumers. (Twitter/@Motherboard).
September 11, 2017

BANGOR, Maine -- The clock is ticking when it comes to a free and open internet in the United States, and watchdog groups are gearing up for what could be a lengthy court battle if regulators put an end to net neutrality.

In May, the Federal Communications Commission proposed rolling back an Obama-era rule regulating internet service providers as utilities, meaning providers can't block or limit access to websites. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wants to quash regulations treating Internet Service Providers as utilities, saying it hampers innovation and investment.

Jim Chilsen, director of communications for the Citizens Utility Board, said there's a misconception about what net neutrality is, and who could be impacted by it.

"A lot of times, this gets portrayed as this battle between these big tech companies - between AT&T and Amazon, or Verizon, or Comcast and Netflix,” Chilsen said. "And it actually, in the end, it's going to hit the little guy, consumers like you and me."

Chilsen said if net neutrality rules are rolled back, it could drive small tech companies and internet providers out of business, meaning if consumers are unhappy with the service a large ISP provides, there would be nowhere else to turn. He said if the FCC decides to pull the plug on the safeguards that are in place, watchdog agencies like his will take the issue to court.

He said every increase in a utility bill hurts, especially for those on a fixed income.

"Consumers get nickeled and dimed,” he said. "A $90 million rate hike for a company may seem like a small rate hike, and the per-customer increase may be small, but these little cuts take a toll."

More than 22 million people commented on net neutrality during the FCC's public comment period, and Chilsen said an overwhelming majority were in favor of keeping protections in place.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - ME