Our view: FCC should delay its net neutrality decision

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When folks as diverse as REM's Michael Stipe, Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and attorneys general from across the United States are in opposition to a policy change, you can bet your bandwidth it's a bad policy.

Federal Communications Chairman Chairmain Ajit Pai has spent much of 2017 working to reverse Obama-era rules created to protect consumers and promote fairness online. The FCC has argued that net neutrality rules should have come from Congress, not from the previous administration's FCC and, really, internet providers understand that it is in their own interests to maintain a level playing field. The FCC also contends net neutrality stifles competition.

However, wrote Attorney General TJ Donovan, "A free and open internet is the lifeblood of modern commerce, and consumers expect transparency and fairness when they go online. Vermont's small businesses and start-ups rely on it to be competitive in the global economy and our citizens rely on it for goods, services, and information."

In a letter signed by hundreds of religious leaders, they contended that "unadulterated communication tools can allow countless individuals to lift themselves from poverty, seek insight and education, and draw closer to achieving fundamental human rights."

The FCC also received a letter from hundreds of musicians and music industry members advocating for internet freedom and urging the FCC to scrap its plans to roll back net neutrality rules. "To truly make good on the remarkable democratic potential of the internet, the fundamental infrastructure underpinning it all must be neutral and nondiscriminatory. Unfortunately, the FCC's current proposal would amount to a sharp turn in the opposite direction," the music industry members wrote.

The musicians noted that the FCC's planned rollback "would allow big cable and wireless companies to create new pay-to-play fast lanes, disadvantaging those who cannot pay for preferential treatment, and replicating the industry's past problems with payola. Allowing broadband providers to control this once-open platform shifts leverage away from individual artists, creators, and small businesses, and interferes with freedom of speech and expression."

Internet heavyweights such as Google, Facebook, and Spotify have also put the FCC on notice that they will fight for net neutrality.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for a free and open internet, has stripped the rhetoric from the FCC's argument and exposed it for what it really is — just another naked power grab by the monopolies that drive all of us batty with their services.

The public and virtually every facet of internet culture, including most internet service providers, contends the EFF, oppose the FCC's plan. "Why are we even going down this path? To put it simply, it is because the FCC is not serving the public interest, but rather is serving the interests of the very few but massive vertically integrated ISPs that support the current agency's agenda."

Vermont was one of 13 states that filed comments urging the FCC in July to protect and preserve net neutrality. Those pleas apparently fell on deaf ears, or were swallowed up by the millions of comments — the majority of which turned out to have been generated by automated bots — supporting rolling back the rules.

According to the Vermont Attorney General, some of those fake comments had attached to them the names of live and kicking Vermonters. "I was shocked and dismayed that comments allegedly written by me and misrepresenting my views were submitted to the FCC without my knowledge or consent," said Irene Racz of Montpelier. "In an era of 'fake news,' any public agency relying on phony comments to make decisions affecting all Americans is nothing more than 'fake government."

Donovan has created an online portal — www.uvm.edu/consumer/fake-fcc-comments — where Vermonters can find out if their names were attached to false comments.

We urge all Vermonters to visit the portal and see if their identities were used to post comments in support of the FCC. We also urge them to file comments that are in line with their own views, and urge the FCC to delay its vote and re-open the comment submission period, with a guarantee that comments are authentic and not generated by some troll-bot farm in some obscure — and not so obscure — eastern European nation


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