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Empire Editorial: Internet providers need utility-like treatment

Posted: February 23, 2014 - 1:06am

We like Google. We like Netflix. We’d like to keep enjoying them.

Last month, a federal appeals court ruled that American Internet providers aren’t utilities under federal law. This wrongheaded decision must be repaired by legislation or new rules before trouble develops.

Telephone companies, like electric companies, are utilities. They can’t discriminate. AEL&P can’t say that you can use your toaster but not your oven.

If you want to switch from AT&T to Verizon, AT&T’s phone network has to treat your call to Verizon neutrally. It can’t disconnect you or garble your call.

That is no longer true on the Internet.

Last month’s court ruling means American Internet companies may decide what you see and how fast you see it. If GCI doesn’t like you watching Netflix instead of cable TV, it can legally slow your Netflix connection. If ACS doesn’t want you to switch to GCI, it can keep you from navigating over to GCI’s website.

None of America’s major Internet companies is throttling its competitors, and both GCI and ACS have promised to keep Alaska’s Internet neutral.

Promises are worth their weight in gold. They’re only as valuable as the reputation of the people issuing them. If the leadership of ACS or GCI changes, the company’s attitude may change.

If a company does something you don’t like, the obvious solution is to switch. Unfortunately, most of Alaska doesn’t have many options when it comes to reliable broadband Internet.

Reliable, secure and neutral Internet access is too important to be left to chance. The Federal Communications Commission or Congress must act to protect consumers in Alaska and the rest of the country.

If they can’t act, the state of Alaska will have to do what the federal government can’t.

• Empire editorials are written by the Juneau Empire’s editorial board. Members include: Publisher Rustan Burton, rustan.burton@juneauempire.com; Director of Audience Abby Lowell, abby.lowell@juneauempire.com; Managing Editor Charles L. Westmoreland, charles.westmoreland@juneauempire.com; and Asst. Editor James Brooks, james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com. 

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