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Bender: Rolling back net neutrality would be an assault on free speech

The FCC appears ready to roll back net neutrality rules in December. I know your eyes are glazing over, but hang with me just a second, and let me tell you how this will be good for you.(Silence.)OK, it won't actually be good for you. Not at firs...

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The FCC appears ready to roll back net neutrality rules in December. I know your eyes are glazing over, but hang with me just a second, and let me tell you how this will be good for you.

(Silence.)

OK, it won't actually be good for you. Not at first, anyway. But, in the same way that tax breaks for corporations will eventually trickle down to everyone, you'll get trickle-down web services.

The internet was originally touted as a democratization of information - free speech in its freest form - but Lord knows giant corporations have suffered long enough under the shackles of Democracy and the First Amendment.

In 2015, when net neutrality became policy, it ensured users equal access to all online content, regardless of the source. Tragically, that left internet service providers unable to fully monetize (exploit) both ends of the market - websites and end users.

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This is all being framed as the free market versus government regulation. Well, it's sorta true. Abolishing net neutrality will allow ISPs the freedom to price smaller companies out of business and to charge end users more for less. Your ISP will decide for you, based on a tiered toll system, whose products and what information, including political messaging, you see.

With this pay-to-play concept, websites that can afford to pay more to hold a dominant position online will effectively stifle innovative startups that can't afford to pay what established companies can. Consider the political free speech ramifications.

In short, it's in keeping with the way politics works today in America. With Citizens United the law of the land, you get as much speech as you can afford. But it ain't free.

Corporations have laid out a lot of money to buy legislation. Comcast and AT&T each spent $28 million on campaign contributions and lobbyists in 2016. Don't expect them to behave once they get the policy they paid for.

The basic premise of net neutrality allows customers to do whatever they want (legally) with their internet connection. Before net neutrality became law, AT&T blocked Skype, because it was cheaper than using AT&T cellphones. They also tried to block FaceTime for the same reason. In 2007, it was reported that Comcast blocked some customers from downloading online videos.

Teddy Roosevelt said, "Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs."

An antitrust suit in 1982 broke up the phone monopoly. Well, they're back. If you love your cable or satellite television bill, you're going to love the new internet, because that's the model. We're going from buffet to ala carte. You'll pay more for less.

You'll no longer be an internet consumer who can freely choose what you want to access. No, that will be decided for you. Effectively, censorship by highest bidder.

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The reality is, you're insignificant as a consumer. Your importance lies as part of a database. You are part of the market. A digit in an algorithm. This is about selling you what monopolies want to sell.

So far, key members of the FCC board seem unswayed by the almost universal consumer support for continuing net neutrality. The board is comprised of three Republicans and two Democrats, each placed by presidential appointment for five-year terms. Elections have consequences.

The greatest threat to unethical power is freedom of information. If the FCC repeals net neutrality when it votes on Dec. 14, a primary source of information will be controlled like never before - by a corporatocracy.

Bender is publisher of North Dakota weekly newspapers in Wishek and Ashley.

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