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Josh Bergeron: A case for implementation of FCC’s net neutrality ruling

In a perfect world, everything would be equal. Duke and UNC basketball teams, for example, would have an even .500 winning percentage against each other. Republicans and Democrats, every year, would precisely split victories in elections; half of the winners would represent each party.

Last week the Federal Communications Commission moved slightly closer to a perfectly equal world — at least on the Internet — when its commissioners took steps to address “net neutrality.”

The FCC voted 3-2 to adopt measures that apply to internet speed and municipal broadband legality. The laws are sure to be challenged by conservatives, corporations and Republicans in court, but the approved rules are in reality a positive step forward for America.

In its simplest form, “net neutrality” is an ideology that says Internet providers shouldn’t be allowed to control available bandwidth to certain websites. So, in a perfectly net-neutral world, Time Warner Cable wouldn’t speed up the loading pace of only its own news website, and not others, to Internet customers. By the same token, no websites could be blocked from being accessed by paying customers.

The other part of the FCC’s ruling this week mirrors the core values of “net neutrality” — preventing Internet providers from throttling the speed of some websites and slowing down others. The FCC’s rules also outlaw “fast lanes,” which would allow certain websites to pay for faster speed.

A flock of opponents, mostly conservatives, opposed the ruling, calling it another layer of government regulation. Shortly after the ruling, a group of Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill filed legislation in opposition. Their bill specifically pertained to the FCC’s choice to take action protecting municipal broadband networks. Included in the gaggle of lawmakers was U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

“After witnessing how some local governments wasted taxpayer dollars and accumulated millions in debt through poor decision making, the legislatures of states like North Carolina and Tennessee passed commonsense, bipartisan laws that protect hardworking taxpayers and maintain the fairness of free-market competition,” Tillis said.

Tillis’ and other lawmakers’ opposition to municipal broadband is a typical states-rights case. Who should have more power: the state or federal government?

And, in truth, wasteful spending is a logical point.

Take Salisbury for example.

The city could have invested the money it spent on its Internet network, Fibrant, in a different way. The financial costs associated with the fiber network have even become a rallying cry against the City of Salisbury by some of Rowan’s more conservative residents, but shouldn’t we all be in favor of a competitive landscape and a free market economy?

Lawmakers, however, seem to be less concerned with government’s role in the free market economy and more concerned with financial implications.

“States are sovereign entities that have constitutional rights, which should be respected rather than trampled upon,” said Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. “They know best how to manage their limited taxpayer dollars and financial ventures. Ironically, they will now be burdened by the poor judgment of a federal government that is over $18 trillion in debt and clearly cannot manage its own affairs.”

The problem is, states, counties and municipalities aren’t immune from debt. The United States’ debt numbers in the trillions. North Carolina’s debt is in the billions. Rowan’s and Salisbury’s debt is in the millions.

Generally, locally elected officials are good stewards of taxpayer dollars. It’s not the responsibility of state or federal government to intervene and overrule municipal decisions. North Carolina’s Local Government Commission is designed to intervene in extreme conditions, but neither Salisbury nor Rowan county are in dire financial shape.

More than municipal broadband — largely a side-note for most of the nation — the proposed ability, or lack thereof, of Internet providers to control the speed of certain websites is even more significant. The FCC’s rules are a positive outcome for customers of private companies and municipal broadband.

“This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler before a vote was taken on the new rules. “They both stand for the same concept: openness, expression and an absence of gatekeepers telling them what they can do, where they can go and what they can think.”

Challenges to the FCC’s rules mean the measures likely won’t become final for several more months, but the vote was an important step in the right direction. Sure, arguments could be perverted to be interpreted as regulation, but it’s almost universally agreed — or should be — that certain forms of regulation are beneficial. The FCC now has the tools it needs to ensure an Internet that allows freedom of expression and equal access.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246

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