Local Coops Help Keep Internet Under Public Control As Net Neutrality Repeal Looms

Internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon use servers like these to convey bits of data from content providers to consumers.

The Federal Communications Commission says it will vote Dec. 14 to repeal net neutrality. 

Critics say that decision would enrich giant telecommunications companies and put them in charge of what people see, and don’t see, on the Internet. 

That’s because net neutrality treats the Internet like a public utility, with all content providers having equal access. 

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative with the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, says most Americans have only one or two Internet service providers to choose from.

“The official United States policy is that we’re supposed to have a lot of competition in telecommunications networks,” he points out. “But every time the state or the federal government try to do something to actually encourage competition, the big cable and telephone companies say, ‘Oh, that’s not fair. You can’t do anything to encourage competition. That would be bad for us.’”

The FCC says net neutrality stifles innovation by over regulating Internet service providers, and the vote will encourage ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon to improve and expand broadband. 

The issue breaks down along party lines with Republican lawmakers tending to support deregulation.  

Mitchell says the vote is just a move from public to private regulation, and that companies such as Comcast and CenturyLink will now be making the rules.

“At the state and federal level the voices of the big cable and telephone companies drown out local voices,” he states. “Fortunately at the local level, local voices have much more power and so they can get more done. ”


Cities Turn To Local Internet Coops

Mitchell says many counties and small cities have formed cooperatives to provide their own Internet service.

He says community broadband relies on an old model of self-sufficiency that has worked for rural America before.

“I absolutely think we’re going to see more leadership from the local level and that’s – it’s very promising if you live in one of those towns,” he states. “Unfortunately there will be winners and losers because some towns won’t do anything.”

Mitchell says 30 states, including Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, have municipal Internet co-ops

He and others who support net neutrality say the fight for fairness on the Internet will play out in local jurisdictions and in the courts. 

Meantime, opposition to the vote is mounting with letter writing and phone call campaigns to keep pressure on Congress. 

A protest at Verizon stores across the country is planned for Dec. 7, one week before the vote. 

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai used to be an attorney for Verizon.

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