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Could Repealing Net Neutrality Threaten Rural Americans' Internet?

Protests to save net neutrality are scheduled for Dec. 7. (Credo Action/Flickr)
Protests to save net neutrality are scheduled for Dec. 7. (Credo Action/Flickr)
December 4, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. – What will repealing net neutrality rules mean for communities in rural America?

Public interest groups say it could present unique challenges.

The Federal Communications Commission will vote next week on chairman Ajit Pai's proposal to roll back current rules that force Internet providers to offer the same Internet speeds to all sites.

Pai maintains the regulations are onerous and unnecessary.

But Jessica Gonzalez, deputy director and senior counsel for the group Free Press, says most rural communities only have one Internet provider and that provider could do as it pleases if the rule is repealed.

"We can't vote with our feet when it comes to how we're getting our access to the Internet and that really is the main reason why we need to regulate Internet access providers – to ensure that they're not blocking, throttling or prioritizing certain traffic on the Internet," Gonzalez states.

Protests against the repeal of net neutrality are planned for Thursday in front of Verizon stores across the country.

Pai is a former attorney for Verizon.

You can find local protests at

The rule change would reclassify Internet providers – currently classified as telecommunications services – as information services.

Gonzalez says one of the biggest issues with getting rid of net neutrality is that it takes away fair regulation of the Internet, and that could hurt businesses if a provider decides to steer traffic away from them.

"If rural folks do not have net neutrality, it means that they will not be guaranteed that they can reach (an) audience, that they can reach customers if they're running a business from their home, and that they will have equal access to the news and information and things they need to survive and thrive," she explains.

The FCC also has proposed scaling back the Lifeline program, which provides phone and Internet service at a subsidized rate to low-income Americans.

Gonzalez says this would hurt rural communities because many people in these communities use the program.


Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND