Monday, April 23, 2018

How could repeal of net neutrality affect rural America?

The Federal Communication Commission's repeal of net neutrality, instituted under the Obama administration, takes effect today. The change could hurt most in rural areas that already have difficulty gaining access to reliable, affordable broadband.

Many still don't know what net neutrality is, but the upshot is that internet service providers could slow or halt access to certain sites and streaming services unless you pay more for a fast lane, Ali Budner reports for Wyoming Public Radio.

Caroline Fry, advocacy and media manager for Colorado Common Cause, believes net neutrality is important for democracy, and that it protects the free dissemination of information online. Rural people often have fewer options for internet service, and are therefore more at the mercy of telecoms companies imposing rate hikes. That can hurt rural residents who want to run businesses, or access education, health care, and entertainment online. "It's more than just about do I watch Netflix or Hulu," she told Budner. "This is about how do I get the resources I need to be able to participate in our society."

Montana Public Service Commissioner Travis Kavulla disagrees that the repeal of net neutrality will hurt rural areas. He serves on the panel that oversees telecommunications for the state, and said "the internet relies far too much on federal subsidies and content providers like Netflix, Google and Apple are getting a free ride. He’d like to see those companies picking up the tab," Budner reports.

Kavulla says rural internet access could expand more without stifling net neutrality rules. He doesn't mind the idea of fast-lane internet packages, speculating that rural residents would rather have some content at a reliably high speed than all content at an equally slow speed.

The vast majority of people polled support keeping net neutrality rules in place. Montana's governor, Steve Bullock, issued an executive order to keep net neutrality in his state, and Idaho and Colorado are trying to accomplish the same goal via legislation, Budner reports. And some towns are getting around the issue by creating their own locally controlled internet services that guarantee net neutrality.

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