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Defending net neutrality and Boston’s open Internet

July 12, 2017

A free and open Internet is vital to the success of our City and its people. We must defend it.

This post was written by the Department of Innovation and Technology's CIO, Jascha Franklin-Hodge. It was originally posted to Medium on July 12, 2017.

Every Boston resident deserves access to fast, affordable broadband options. Getting more people connected creates a more equal, innovative, and prosperous City.

We’ve worked hard to foster competition and choice in our broadband marketplace. We’ve already begun making strides -- last year, Verizon announced that they will begin offering Fios service in Boston. More and more households can chose their internet service provider, with five broadband companies offering service in the City.

We value the people of Boston, and we think broadband companies should too. Broadband customers should be able to choose what content to access without their Internet Service Provider acting as a gatekeeper or toll taker.  An open Internet puts consumers in the driver’s seat, where all websites, apps, and online services compete on a level playing field.

To maintain this, we need a pro-consumer regulatory framework for broadband services. This framework must include elements that safeguard the privacy of our constituents, advance the availability of affordable broadband service for those with limited means, and protect the open Internet.

Right now, the protections that guard the open Internet are at risk. Under pressure from a few large telecommunications companies, the FCC is poised to abandon their regulatory authority.

On May 18, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 2-1 to begin the process of eliminating the regulatory framework upon which consumers across the country rely to protect the open Internet. Called the Open Internet Order, the current regulatory structure was put in place by the FCC in 2015 and classifies broadband as a common carrier telecommunications service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

These protections are often described as Net Neutrality. In its most basic sense, Net Neutrality means that all lawful content on the Internet must be treated equally. Title II endows the FCC with the critical responsibility of ensuring that broadband companies operate accordingly. Without Title II or an equally strong regulatory framework, broadband companies cannot be held accountable.

The fate of Title II will soon be in the hands of our elected and appointed officials. We respectfully request that our representatives consider how important enforceable Net Neutrality is to our City. A free and open Internet benefits our constituents and is vital for our economic and civic growth.

A free and open Internet means that upstart news and video streaming services aren’t forced to pay ISPs for “fast lanes.” The cost of this fast lane would inevitably be passed to consumers, and would make it harder for companies and organizations without deep pockets to reach people.

A free and open Internet helps our business community compete on a global scale. The businesses of every size that make Boston a hotbed of innovation deserve the chance to get products and ideas to market. Enforceable Net Neutrality protects these businesses from unnecessary barriers and fees.

A free and open Internet empowers our constituents to engage with and represent the diverse ideas, cultures, and voices that make our City and our nation great, and it facilitates the free expression that is the cornerstone of our democracy.

The tools and services brought about by the Internet have enriched our lives, boosted our economy, and created new opportunities for civic participation. Thoughtful regulation is essential if we are to maintain and build on these benefits. The FCC and our elected officials should put consumers first, not a few big corporations, and reject the rollback of rules that protect the open Internet.