Stand for Something: Net Neutrality

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Longmont Observer.

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One the major economic transitions of the digital age has been the movement of markets from local to national. Retail, media, and The News are prominent examples that affect our day to day lives. I’m as culpable as anyone else for shopping on Amazon, watching Netflix and reading the New York Times even though there are reasonable, locally produced replacements.

With respect to the news, one of the major consequences of the increasing prominence of national news is the withering of local news. Local TV stations get bought up by national corporations with agendas that don’t necessarily serve Longmont. For now, we’re lucky that the Times-Call only moved out of town rather than being completely shut down. Thie result is that as a new resident, it’s easier to find out what’s for dinner at a restaurant in Chicago than it is to know what’s going on in the Longmont City Council.

Those are all reasons why I’m excited to be writing this column for the Longmont Observer.

A major deficiency of the nationalization of news is that it can be hard to connect events on a national level to the day to day lives of people here in Longmont. The national media is doing everything in their power to convince us that tariffs, regulations, investigations and scandals matter to us, but they can’t talk about Colorado, let alone Longmont, because they need to serve a national constituency. My hope is to use this space to articulate my view on how these national issues connect right here at home.

An issue that has been in the news on and off for the past year is that of Net Neutrality. I bring up Net Neutrality now because on Monday, May 14th, 2018, the U.S. Senate is poised to take a vote on whether to overturn actions by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to end Net Neutrality regulations at the national level. Net Neutrality is one of the core ideas of the internet that allowed it to grow into the multi-headed hydra that it is today.

At its simplest, the principle of Net Neutrality simply states that no carrier of information from the internet can discriminate against certain kinds of traffic simply because of the content. This allows the internet to be a level playing field in the way that just wasn’t possible in the real world.

Pre-internet, if you wanted to open a book store to compete with Barnes & Noble, you had better hope you can secure some prime real estate. In the internet age, a different bookstore is just a different website. Comparing between price and quality of service is trivial and ensures that the business that can better serve your needs has an honest opportunity to earn your dollar.

This idyllic, utopian, premise served the internet well until it started to hurt the bottom line of some internet service providers (ISPs). My generation has expressed a preference for on-demand video, which means ISPs like Comcast, which also sells cable TV, are losing money and customers. So, their plan is to slow down the quality of service for streaming video providers in order to make those services less palatable. When they thought they could get away with it, companies like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T and others worldwide have violated Net Neutrality in order to benefit their own bottom lines.

We’re lucky here in Longmont to have NextLight, which provides high quality internet service beholden to only us. That means we can escape a lot of the local level shenanigans around Net Neutrality, but this is a much bigger issue than just who your personal ISP is. As its name implies, the internet is a network of networks. NextLight connects to the rest of the internet via CenturyLink, a Tier 1 network with infrastructure spanning the globe.

It doesn’t matter how well intentioned NextLight is if CenturyLink decides to engage in unfair, anti-competitive behavior. Maybe they want more NextLight customers signing up for TV service (which NextLight doesn’t offer). In the absence of Net Neutrality rules, they could slow down services which compete with cable. Wal-Mart could pay CenturyLink to slow down Amazon. CenturyLink could decide to smother a young startup in Longmont that is a threat to its profits. This isn’t idle speculation, they lobbied to ensure Net Neutrality died.

Of course, these things don’t have to happen. While the Colorado Senate acted against their constituents’ best interest in a half-hearted hearing in late April, the US Senate is voting on Monday. In the absence of our voices, the only voices our US Senators will hear is that of lobbyists. So if this is an issue that matters to you, contact Senator Cory Gardner and Senator Michael Bennet today.

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