Along with my colleagues, Sens. Tom Begich and Bill Wielechowski, I have introduced a package of legislation that would protect net neutrality in Alaska and urge Congress to reverse a recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order eliminating net neutrality protections.
Net neutrality is the idea that the internet should be a free and open place for unrestricted communication and commerce. Net neutrality is so ubiquitous that most people don’t know that it’s the standard since 1996. However, a recent FCC decision is threatening net neutrality and the internet as we know it.
I believe net neutrality reflects the American ideals of liberty, self-determination and competition. Net neutrality protects our First Amendment rights while ensuring a level playing field for small businesses. Without net neutrality protections, ISPs can block online content, slow down websites and charge for internet fast lanes. These practices hurt everyone, from consumers to corporations. That’s probably why net neutrality is supported by the ACLU, the Christian Coalition, Netflix and Microsoft.
Why is net neutrality important? Currently, you can easily visit Facebook, Google or any other website without obstruction. Without net neutrality, ISPs would be able to charge you extra on top of what you already pay to access your favorite website. You might have to pay an extra $5 to get access to social media sites like Twitter or Pinterest. If you want to shop online, then add another $10 for access to Amazon or Ebay. If you like to watch Netflix or YouTube, that will be another $15. Without net neutrality, ISPs can charge you more money for less service.
Now let’s say you are a local business owner who sells outdoor gear and you do business on the internet. Currently, you can create a website to advertise and sell your product online, gaining the same access to customers as megastores like Walmart or Sportsman’s Warehouse. Net neutrality creates a level playing field for your small business to attract customers and grow. With the elimination of net neutrality, ISPs could block your website arbitrarily or charge your business extra for high-speed fast lanes even though you already pay your regular internet bill. The superstores can afford to pay extra for prioritized high-speed internet access, but small businesses might not have the means to buy that access. Ending net neutrality puts small businesses at a disadvantage and hurts the local economy. Net neutrality makes sure that Main Street has the same business opportunities as the large Wall Street corporations.
Under my proposed net neutrality law, House Bill 277, services that benefit the public good would still be allowed to access prioritized internet fast lanes. Critical services like telemedicine and distance education would have access to expedited internet connections. It is incorrect to claim that net neutrality threatens those services. In fact, maintaining net neutrality would protect those vital public services from being singled out for financial exploitation by profit-seeking ISP companies. You wouldn’t wait until your house burned down to install smoke detectors. Similarly, it would be shameful to wait until access to vital online services are blocked to act to protect the right of Alaskans to use a free and open internet.
If you’re still thinking, “If net neutrality is so important, why haven’t I heard of it before now?” The truth is, net neutrality is so fundamental to how we experience the internet that we’ve all benefitted from net neutrality for years without even knowing it. Whenever an ISP tried to bypass net neutrality, the FCC has been able to take them to court. Now that ISPs have the power to shape what you see on the internet, we are on the brink of losing what we had previously taken for granted.
Net neutrality matters to me because I’ve seen what technological advancements an open internet has created. I want to ensure that the next generation of Alaskans experiences even more progress. Email, social media and e-commerce have all changed how we connect and do business. The common thread throughout these innovations is net neutrality. Let’s make sure that the internet remains free and open for the future of innovation and let’s protect net neutrality.
• Rep. Scott Kawasaki is a Democrat representing Fairbanks in the Alaska Legislature.