All three members of Vermont's congressional delegation are urging the Federal Communications Commission not to repeal internet policies known as "net neutrality."
They are raising their voices on this issue because when the FCC meets in the middle of December, it's expected to finalize a plan that will eliminate rules that help govern the use of the internet.
These are policies adopted by the Obama Administration that prohibit Internet Service Providers from speeding up, slowing down, or blocking access to certain web sites.
Bradley Holt is a senior software engineer with the IBM Watson Data Platform. Here's how he explains net neutrality:
Imagine that you have an electric stove. Holt says that under net neutrality everyone is provided with the same electric current from their power company to operate that stove.
He says doing away with net neutrality would allow the utility company to sell its customers electrical current with different magnitudes of power.
“You might be able to actually cook your food faster not because the stove is necessarily better but because the grid is actually providing more electricity to your stove based on that brand name," said Holt.
Now imagine going one step further.
"What if your electric company then also chose to buy an appliance company,” said Holt. “They would actually then have the ability to give preferential treatment to their own appliances."
This is the scenario that Holt sees unfolding if Internet Service Providers (ISPs), like Comcast, are able to offer higher speed access to their own programming content, and if they can also reduce access speeds to their competitors.
"On the internet you can't provide a fast lane without also making other lanes slower,” said Holt. “So it sounds like a good thing on the surface well sure it will be good to have faster internet but what you are really doing is you are giving preferential access to certain content and giving lesser access to other content."
Net Neutrality, Explained
c/o The New York Times
Sen. Patrick Leahy has been one of the Senate's biggest supporters of internet technology. He argues that repealing net neutrality will undermine the types of innovation that have taken place on the internet in recent years.
"The internet was designed originally to be for everybody, that's how it has grown and that's how it's become as important in our lives as it is,” said Leahy. “If you had to pay different amounts for different access it would not have grown this way."
And Leahy is concerned that many small businesses will suffer if the FCC goes ahead with its plan.
"If you're a small business owner in Vermont, you can be made to stand way in the back of the line on internet matters to out of state and even out-of-country large companies that might compete against you,” said Leahy.
Rep. Peter Welch is also concerned that many rural parts of the country will suffer if net neutrality is repealed because some ISPs will stop investing in projects to expand access in less populated areas.
"This is going to further empower them to leave rural America behind and just focus on where they can make the most money,” said Welch. “It's a very, very, dangerous decision for the well-being of rural America, for Vermont, and for our country."
Welch says it's likely that a lawsuit will be filed to block the FCC from taking this action on the grounds that the Commission has exceeded its jurisdictional authority.
"All of these companies, entrepreneurs, communities, have based decisions and have expectations legitimately based on net neutrality," said Welch.
In a written statement, Sen. Bernie Sanders said the plan to do away with net neutrality is a case of the Trump Administration "siding with big money and against democracy."
"What this means," said Sanders, "Is that the internet and its free exchange of information, as we have come to know it, will cease to exist."
Update 12/14/2017 Sen. Leahy released the following after the FCC repealed net neutrality.
The FCC Thursday afternoon approved an item that guts the 2015 Open Internet Order, which the D.C. Circuit Court upheld in 2016. The Open Internet Order prohibited internet service providers from setting up internet fast and slow lanes and ensured they could not block or slow down internet traffic.
“Donald Trump’s FCC made an historic mistake today by overturning its net neutrality rules, and we cannot let it stand,” said Senator Markey. “Without strong net neutrality rules, entrepreneurs, inventors, small businesses, activists and all those who rely on a free and open internet will be at the mercy of big broadband companies that can block websites, slow down traffic and charge websites fees in order to increase their profits.
“We will fight the FCC’s decisions in the courts, and we will fight it in the halls of Congress,” continued Senator Markey. “With this CRA, Congress can correct the Commission’s misguided and partisan decision and keep the internet in the hands of the people, not big corporations. Our Republicans colleagues have a choice - be on the right side of history and stand with the American people who support net neutrality, or hold hands with the big cable and broadband companies who only want to supercharge their profits at the expense of consumers and our economy.”