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OUR VIEW: Congress needs to take leadership on internet issue

THE ISSUE: FCC votes to end 'net neutrality'

OUR VIEW: Issue now in Congress' hands

Within a lengthier statement, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger said "it’s time for Congress to enact permanent rules that protect consumers."

We couldn't agree more.

He was reacting to the Federal Communications Commission's decision to repeal "net neutrality" rules Thursday, giving internet service providers the option to slow or block websites and apps as they see fit or overhaul pricing structures. The broadband industry has said the internet experience for the public isn't going to change, but it's at their word.

Intended as a consumer protection, the goal of net neutrality as codified in an FCC regulation was to prevent companies from offering preferential treatment to certain content or customers.

An Illinois Valley Community College technology instructor explained how ISPs, such as AT&T and Mediacom, fell under the FCC's Title II designation for common carriers such as electricity or landline telephone service.

“They just carry the message, that is all,” Gina Elias told The Times. “They can’t filter who you call or how much electricity. That's the way ISPs should run under net neutrality.”

In other words, the net neutrality rule already looked out for consumers.

Kinzinger, who is vice chairman of the subcommittee on digital commerce and consumer protection, expanded his statement to say consumers should be protected "by prohibiting providers from blocking lawful content, throttling Internet traffic and instituting paid prioritization, all while increasing transparency in the network management practices of broadband providers."

Again, it's hard to argue those sentiments. More than 80 percent of Americans polled favored net neutrality. But if Kinzinger supports the same basic principles, how would new legislation differ from net neutrality? Why did the FCC need to revoke its own regulation?

Dissecting the congressman's statement even more, it's clear he believed instilling net neutrality was a government overreach. He referred to net neutrality as "heavy-handed regulations" and said the "long arm of the government needs to be used sparingly and judiciously when it comes to regulating the internet."

Aside from the fact Kinzinger did not take a yea-or-nay stance prior to the FCC's vote, this aspect of his statement is not surprising. In 2016, Kinzinger proposed a bill (H.R. 2666) to limit the FCC's authority over protecting net neutrality. He also co-sponsored a bill in March that negated a previous law protecting the privacy rights of individual internet users.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said revoking the regulations could lead to ISPs investing in building and expanding broadband networks.

Creating a greater infrastructure sounds like a solid goal, but will it come at a cost to the user?

“Maybe the advantage is to customize what you actually use, but in the countries that have tried to do that, the people are not happy with the end results," Elias previously told The Times. "My opinion is, it’s not broke so why do we fix it?"

Within Kinzinger's statement, he supported protecting innovation.

"We must also work together to prevent large corporations from stifling innovation, thought or speech while also incentivizing investments in rural America, including areas in my district."

Is this double speak, or do the congressman and colleagues have a plan for how corporate innovation can co-exist with consumer protections?

It's one thing to set aspirations high, but reality can be sobering.

Consumers don't want to see prices go up, or services compartmentalized. The industry shouldn't be allowed to go stagnant. The internet's vibrance has led to upstarts, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Netflix.

On one hand, the will of people is carried out through policy set by Congress. There will be pressure from voters to protect consumers.

On the other hand, getting Congress to agree on anything in a meaningful manner has been futile. And telecom companies are capable of making significant campaign contributions and investing in professional lobbyists.

We urge voters to pay close attention as this issue plays out — and it will have many different spokes, as attorneys general in several states are appealing the decision, along with possible lawsuits. The public should voice its opinion loud and clear. Kinzinger should be held accountable to his words to protect consumers. And our congressmen and congresswomen need to be the watchdogs, and remember who they ultimately represent. We, the people.

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