Guest Opinion: Don't gut net-neutrality rules

​The Seattle Times
Jan. 4
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Imagine how President-elect Donald Trump would feel if his late-night tweets were bumped to a slow lane of the internet to make way for “Saturday Night Live” broadcasts making fun of him.

Fortunately for Trump, there are rules in place to ensure fair treatment for the delivery of content.

This “net-neutrality” policy is intended to prevent internet access providers from discriminating against content, or favoring content or services they prefer.

Comcast, for instance, cannot throttle a social-media application and prioritize streaming of “Saturday Night Live” shows produced by the NBC network it owns.

The Federal Communications Commission adopted these rules in 2015, when it was controlled by Democrats. But the FCC actually began developing net-neutrality policy a decade earlier, when it was controlled by Republicans.

Ensuring a level playing field online, and access to all viewpoints, is a priority for Americans of all parties.

An astounding 3.7 million people engaged and commented in 2014 when the FCC was developing its net-neutrality rules. Americans favored the rules by a wide margin.

Yet there are strong indications that Trump might cave to industry pressure and allow these rules to be gutted.

Trump chose a Verizon consultant and prominent net-neutrality opponent to lead his transition team choosing staff for the FCC. Another member of Trump’s transition team has proposed dismantling the entire agency.

Meanwhile, the FCC’s two Republican commissioners are gleefully predicting policy reversals.

There couldn’t be a worse time to enable throttling and manipulation of content delivery.

America and its democracy depend on citizens being well-informed by freely flowing information.

Traditional media that strive to objectively inform citizens are shrinking and under assault from those who reject common understanding in favor of the alternate realities of partisan propaganda. Losing equal access to consumers via the internet — the shared, universal platform for content delivery nowadays — could be the last straw.

Other industries depend on the open internet, including online service providers that have become some of America’s biggest successes. Net-neutrality rules support this font of innovation by protecting new companies — future Microsofts, Googles and Amazon.coms — from being stifled by entrenched players.

Companies of all sorts now depend on the internet to operate, using cloud software. This affirms that the network has truly become an essential utility. Light-touch regulation like the FCC’s net-neutrality policy is appropriate for such utilities, to ensure service is reliable for all users, broadly accessible and nondiscriminatory.

The FCC and its net-neutrality policies are also a bulwark against the dangers of media and telecommunications consolidation.

The handful of companies connecting most Americans to the internet are buying up media companies, increasing chances they’ll manipulate access to benefit their content.

Comcast bought NBC, AT&T bought Time Warner and Verizon is buying Yahoo. All have chafed against net-neutrality rules and tested limits, experimenting with schemes to provide discounted, special access to preferred media.

Trump is particularly knowledgeable about the value and influence of the media. His family has reportedly even considered launching a Trump TV network.

He should be skeptical of telecom lobbyists whispering in his ear and consider what’s at stake.

Then he might realize what a shame it would be if net-neutrality rules were gutted, and entrepreneurs, job-creators and the media lost their best hope of ensuring fair treatment from America’s information gatekeepers.