Ely Echo Guest Editorial: Supporting a free and open internet

by Senator Amy Klobuchar
Minnesotans in rural communities across our state are at risk of losing their access to a free and open internet. People like Lane from Avon, who at 21-years-old is worried about getting his graphic design business off the ground. The internet has helped him get the word out about his designs and he plans to use that momentum to set up his own company, but he’s worried that recent changes to net neutrality rules could make it harder for his small business to succeed. Minnesotans and Americans across the country share this young entrepreneur’s concerns.
For years, the internet has allowed businesses to compete on a level playing field. It has given Americans access to television shows and day-to-day information on everything from driving directions to restaurant reviews. This openness online has been possible because our net neutrality rules prevented internet service providers from discriminating against certain people, content, platforms, and websites by charging more for equal access. The law made sure all data was treated equally. These rules formed the bedrock underneath the open internet by preventing big internet service providers from blocking, slowing, and prioritizing web traffic.
But the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) vote to end those protections threatens to change the way we communicate with each other, how companies do business, how consumers buy goods, and even how we educate our kids. It means that big internet service providers will be able to discriminate against businesses, content and users, charge more for their competitor’s content, or slow down internet service arbitrarily. A two-tiered system that creates a fast lane only for those who can afford it and a slow lane for everyone else is just wrong.
And many Americans agree. When the FCC announced its proposal to eliminate net neutrality protections earlier this year, people pushed back and filed millions of comments supporting a free and open internet.
Repealing net neutrality rules could hit rural Minnesota especially hard. For many rural consumers with only one choice for internet service, there is no real opportunity to comparison shop or find a new provider if they are unhappy with their service. This hurts all consumers, but especially those who run and operate their own businesses.
People like the owners of Aimclear in Duluth. Small businesses rely on the internet to advertise, sell their products directly to consumers and interact with clients. Aimclear has grown from one woman at her kitchen table to a successful digital marketing firm and that may not have been possible if they had been forced to pay extra just to compete online.
We can’t allow internet service providers, instead of consumers, to be in charge of determining the future of the internet. That’s why I joined 49 of my colleagues in the Senate on a bill to overturn Chairman Pai’s plan and protect net neutrality rules.
We are very close to getting the support we need— we have the 30 co-sponsors necessary to start debate on the legislation and we are only one vote short of the 51 votes needed for it to pass the Senate. This week, I signed a petition that would force a vote on this bill—passing this bill in the Senate is an important step in the right direction.
I’ve long been a supporter of a free and open internet, and in the Senate, I’ve fought to increase broadband access for our rural communities. We’ve come a long way over the last few years to connect people to educational and economic opportunities. But the FCC’s decision will undo so much of that progress by limiting competition, hindering innovation, and hurting small business entrepreneurship.
We shouldn’t make it harder for small businesses to start, grow and thrive. We shouldn’t be making it more difficult for them to advertise on the internet, or for individuals to access it.
I’ll keep the pressure on for a fair, free, and open internet that keeps rural communities and small businesses like Lane’s and Aimclear on track to compete and innovate in an increasingly global economy. Its good policy and its good business.