Vermont U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, chair of the Judiciary Committee, held a field hearing in Burlington this morning to take testimony on rules the Federal Communications Commission is considering that some say threaten an open internet.
The FCC is considering rules that could create a two-tiered system of access to the internet, creating so-called “paid-prioritization” between broadband and content providers that would give faster speeds to those who pay more.
With fellow Democrat Congresswoman Doris Matsui of California, Senator Leahy has introduced the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act of 2014 to ban the two-tier system.
Leahy, the Pro Tem of the U.S. Senate and Chair of the Judiciary Committee, held a field hearing in Burlington focused on why an open internet, known as net neutrality, is crucial to entrepreneurs, small business, services and the public. “I don’t want to see an internet that’s divided into the haves and the have-nots. I don’t want to see an internet with those that who can afford to pay can muffle the voices of those who cannot. In an online world that’s split into fast lanes and slow lanes where pay-to-play deals dictate who can reach consumers, that runs contrary to every single principal that I felt the Internet was based on.”
Michael Copps, who served two terms on the FCC and is now a special advisor for Common Cause, told the committee that expensive internet fast lanes could ruin entrepreneurial opportunity. “We can’t build thousands of new needed businesses, we can’t have top-notch education for our kids, we can’t get America out of the economic rut it’s in, when the one tool that can help make it all happen is controlled by a handful of communications and media giants whose main concern is the bottom line of the company’s quarterly report.”
Vermont Country Store proprietor Cabot Orton said they, and other small businesses, would not be successful without free and open access to the internet. “We don’t want to imagine an America with two internets. A fast one for giant corporations, a slow one for everybody else. We don’t want to imagine being held for ransom by telecom behemoths and cable monopolies just to reach our costumers with the same speed and convenience as international conglomerates. In our view, the proposed FCC rule changes would turn what is now a level playing field into one where the biggest companies with the deepest pockets can get their website content to customers faster than everyone else. A small business website that is no longer protected from giant internet toll-keepers would have one choice: pay to play.”
Senator Leahy invited his Vermont Congressional colleague, Democrat Peter Welch, to the hearing. Welch believes there will be no economy in Vermont without a freely accessible internet. “We’ve got entrepreneurs here who have shown what can be done in a small state far removed from markets if they have access to the quality tools that are necessary. So I see this as absolutely essential to the future of Vermont’s economy as well as rural America.”
When questioned by Senator Leahy, Logic Supply Chief Operating Officer Lisa Groeneveld said if the rules allow a two-tier system, it would handicap the company against global competition and force it to reluctantly pay the fast lane fees.