Defending Net Neutrality and a Free and Open Internet

You are likely reading this over a high-speed internet connection that allowed you to easily find your way to this site. But very soon, your ability to read this -- or anything online -- could be disrupted by the government, the corporate donors, and the special interests.

The Federal Communications Commission -- the agency designed to protect the way we communicate -- could soon repeal the Net Neutrality protections that currently provide for a free and open internet. These protections -- which were adopted by the Obama administration in 2015 -- currently prevent internet service providers -- or ISPs -- from selectively speeding up or slowing down access to certain websites or services.

Without these protections, individuals like you and I could suddenly find ourselves being charged exorbitant fees for services that have always been free or affordable, such as Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, or Youtube. The internet is founded on principals like Net Neutrality. A child in Alread should be able to access the same information, at the same speed, and for the same price as a child in Little Rock.

Any candidate or elected official should not only commit himself or herself to that idea, but they should also be held accountable for when he or she neglects that fact.

Before the FCC adopted these protects in 2015, some ISPs, such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, had begun to pry at the edges of this tradition of a free and open internet.

In 2010, Windstream Communications, an Arkansas-based DSL provider with more than 1 million customers at the time, admitted to hijacking data that you and I put into search engines like Google. In 2012, the FCC caught Verizon Wireless blocking people from using tethering applications on their phones, which allow individuals to access the internet via their cell phones.

These are just some of the many examples of how the companies you use to access the internet would raise your prices without a second thought. Their sole motivation is profit-driven, and their core principle is monopolistic.  

I understand that these transgressions might seem like a regular course of business -- and they often do go overlooked -- but this practice should NOT be condoned by our government. The repeal of these protections would destroy any possibility of a free and open internet where small start-ups can compete with corporate giants like Google and Facebook.

Such a move would once again reveal that -- despite some of President Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail -- this administration is completely committed to the interests of corporate monopolies, not to what is best for people who rely on the internet everyday to work, to learn, and make it through their daily lives.

I believe the internet is a public utility -- and should be regulated as such.

Republicans who claim to support “opportunity” on the “free market” should be appalled at how the repeal of these protections would favor established corporations over small businesses.

But, as we’ve seen time and time again, many GOP lawmakers simply decry any government oversight as excessive regulation and move on. If Net Neutrality goes away, ISPs will further divide our communities into to winners and losers of the digital age.

Having a captive customer base hurts internet users in rural areas, especially in our state. The ISPs that rural customers already use are de facto monopolies, and by repealing the Net Neutrality protections these internet providers will have little reason to upgrade service in such a non-competitive environment.

Arkansas needs committed individuals in office that understand how vital an open internet is to everyday life.

  • We are the 48th least connected state. And if we look at more numbers, we see how troubling this really is for our Second District families.
  • Only 52% of Arkansans have access to fixed wireless service.
  • Moreover, our poorest communities in the Second District are the communities most affected.
  • While over 80% of Conway and Faulkner County have access to high speed internet, just 41% of Conway County shares that right.
  • While 96% of Little Rock and Pulaski County have access to high-speed internet, just 7% of Van Buren County can get online.
  • 661,000 people in Arkansas have access to only one wired provider, leaving them no options to switch. Yet, our congressmen have done little to ensure this monopoly of services is regulated properly.
  • Another 230,000 people in Arkansas don't have any wired internet providers available where they live.

By not working to rectify this wrong, our congressmen abandon families in our state, leaving them closed of from the digital age. And they bar children from the same services afforded to children in wealthier areas. I want to implore you not believe the canned GOP line that repealing Net Neutrality protections will “increase” competition. Expert after expert has shown that statement to be a lobbyist lie, and we should let these representatives know that we are not fooled by their corporate spin.

(SEE MORE STATS at Arkansas Broadband Map)

Removing Net Neutrality also hurts your online privacy. Among the protections in the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet order, are protections that keep ISPs from using personal data without permission. This restricts their ability to inspect your data about which sites you visit, which videos you watch, and which emails you read.

Without these protections, these corporations have no reason not to use their access to increase their own bottom line. ISPs would go from being conduits of information, to gatekeepers deciding what information they want you to have access to.

On December 14, the FCC chairman Ajit Pai -- a former lawyer and lobbyist for Verizon -- and the FCC board are likely going to repeal Net Neutrality on a party-line vote.

It will then be up to our Congressional representatives to act by changing the law to restore the free and open Internet that every citizen deserves.

I pledge to go to Congress to help in that fight. Everyone should have access to the wealth of knowledge and the interconnectedness that the internet affords us. My duty as a congressman is to increase the access to a dignified life and protecting Net Neutrality is a core part of that mission.