Proponents of equal access to the Internet got a rare victory this week when a majority in the U.S. Senate approved a resolution disapproving the Federal Communications Commission's rollback of net neutrality
Net neutrality requires Internet service providers such as Comcast and AT&T to treat all users equally. ISPs can not, for example, slow down service for users unwilling or unable to pay an additional premium or block sites that an ISP considers controversial or disagrees with politically or philosophically.
The FCC, under new chairman Ajit Pai, repealed net neutrality requirements put in place during the Obama administration, saying they were not needed. Proponents, however, have pointed to instances in the past where Internet users were harmed, before net neutrality was put in place.
Oregon businesses and politicians have been in the forefront of this fight since the 1990s. Portland, for example, went to bat for small businesses, schools and other small-scale users, insisting that their web sites should load just as quickly as those of big users. And Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden is among those leading the charge currently.
The Senate's resolution, approved on a bipartisan vote, doesn't mean net-neutrality advocates have won the war; this was more like a skirmish. Unlike the Senate, Republicans still have a strong majority in the House of Representatives and their leaders have said they have no intention of taking similar action. They may lose the initiative on this, however; some Democrats have said they plan to make net neutrality an issue in the general election.
This means that any Republican opposing net neutrality risks alienating a broad cross-section of Internet users, from small businesses to non-profit organizations, schools to senior citizens.
The Internet long ago passed the stage where it was regarded as optional by most Americans. It is a necessity for businesses, government agencies, health care providers, and consumers young and old. Members of Congress who ignore this reality do so at their own peril.