Rep. Peter Welch is urging Vermonters to contact the Federal Communications Commission and show their support for Obama-era net neutrality rules. Welch says net neutrality is vital to the U.S. economy.
“Net neutrality is crucial to the future of America, but especially rural America,” Welch said in an interview Tuesday morning.
Welch’s call to action comes as President Donald Trump’s FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, launches an effort to roll back rules put in place during the Obama administration.
Those rules require internet service providers to give equal priority to all internet traffic. Welch and other proponents of the net neutrality say that if Pai is successful in reversing the rules, internet service providers will charge companies extra money in order to prioritize those companies’ traffic. Websites and other internet content from companies that refused to pay or could not afford to pay the extra money would be slower and less accessible to consumers, Welch said.
“My view is that everybody should have access to [the internet], and they don’t have to pay more to get a ‘fast lane,’” Welch said, “they get the same treatment as anybody else.”
He said net neutrality is especially important to preserve competition among companies that rely on the internet for business.
“Let’s say you’re a startup that wants to compete with one of the big guys,” Welch said. Under the new rules, “you might have to pay more if you want to get, quote, a ‘fast lane.’ If you don’t pay as much as the provider might charge, then your access would be limited, slowed. And then you’re not going to be able to compete, because if you’re slower than the big competitor, you’re not going to get your internet content out to the people you’re trying to reach.”
Welch urged Vermonters to contact the FCC before a vote on Thursday, May 18.
“The notice of proposed rulemaking is expected to be voted on by FCC Commissioners later this week on Thursday, May 18,” Welch’s office said in a news release. “If approved, that action will initiate a new rulemaking process to gut the agency’s open internet policy. The comment period will remain open until August 16.”
Welch said Vermonters can send comments to the FCC online at this webpage and in the 'Proceeding(s)' box, enter '17-108' or 'restoring internet freedom'.
Despite a May 11 announcement from the FCC that the commissioners have stopped considering new comments in advance of Thursday's vote, a spokesperson for Welch said that they have "received assurances from Commission staff that comments received before the formal comment period opens will still be considered."