JAMES LEWIS

Bing or Google?

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Imagine a world where a friend using Comcast can access Google much faster than you because your house has Verizon FiOS. Or where you have to pay an additional $5 a month to use Google. This could be the new reality.

Three weeks ago, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals made a technical ruling overturning the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to regulate Internet service providers and ensure they treat all websites equally.

Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, is helping to lead the effort to make sure all Internet users are treated equally. The legislation he supports would immediately preserve net neutrality until the FCC finalizes its rules-making process.

Those who agree with the appeals court ruling claim that allowing some users to buy more bandwidth and faster service than others would stir more innovation on the Internet. On the contrary, it would stifle innovation and drive up costs.

We are not talking about the Internet writ large; we are talking about access, the last five feet of the Internet before it enters your house.

The equal playing field created by the Internet as we’ve known it has generated a new age of innovation businesses because the barrier to worldwide markets for everyone is nearly nonexistent. Now, some Internet service providers want to erect expensive roadblocks to that innovation.

If you have a great idea like Hayley Barna and Katie Beauchamp, the founders of Birchbox, a website where people can sign up for free samples of beauty and lifestyle products, or a blog devoted to your community, like iheartpgh.com, you can find a home and an audience on the Internet.

The appeals court ruling threatens to prevent such success stories. It would allow providers to make deals with companies to speed up access to their websites and slow down or even block access to competitors. Big firms like Facebook, ESPN and Google can afford to make these deals and put competing, local and emerging businesses at a huge disadvantage.

This ruling also has significant implications for democracy. Imagine it is 2012 again and the bosses at Verizon FiOS like Barack Obama. They could speed up access to barackobama.com and slow access to mittromney.com. Comcast might do the opposite. As news becomes increasingly digital, service providers could significantly shift the debate and the information reaching voters.

Believing this might not happen seems naive. In 2012, two of the top telecom companies donated more than $750,000 to presidential candidates.

It does not take much imagination to envision a world where your Internet service providers have more control over your Internet viewing than you do.

The strength of the Internet is that it is free and accessible to everyone and every business.

The FCC must preserve its regulatory capacity and re-classify Internet service as a public utility, an infrastructure necessary to advance the public good. Service providers should not be in charge of deciding which websites, businesses, campaigns or news sources you can access online.

Every month, I pay my Internet bill to wander the Internet at will, not to be forced to use Bing instead of Google.

James Lewis, of Monongahela, is issue advocacy director for the Young Democrats of America.


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