by Dennis Harward, CEO, TownCloud
Editor’s Note: While Mr. Harward pointed out that TownCloud has a vested interest in net neutrality because it is a growing business that depends on internet access, his views align with those of the other “Big Seven” State and Local Government Associations.
As the Internet has grown from a convenience to a necessity, efforts are underway to offer premium (preferred) service levels to certain customers. The argument for this is that those who have invested in building Internet infrastructure should have the ability to monetize their investment as technology becomes available to do so. The prospect of Internet service levels that are controlled by large corporations is an affront to those who want Internet access (and bandwidth) to remain unrestricted. In an effort to protect the “neutrality” of the Internet, the Federal Communications Commision (FCC) imposed regulations in order to prevent the establishment of preferred Internet services.
One of the major problems with efforts to preserve neutrality is that it involves issues that are too complex to be explained in a soundbite or a headline. (In the interest of full disclosure, TownCloud has a vested interest in net neutrality as a growing business that depends on Internet access.) At the same time, powerful special interests are creating barriers that could result in dividing the Internet into “classes." With that in mind, I will attempt to add my own thoughts on the issue.
While some people celebrated net neutrality as a great victory for democracy, others felt that their investment in Internet infrastructure was being abused by services that use large amounts of bandwidth. There are legitimate arguments on both sides of the issue.
When the FCC recently overturned the net neutrality restrictions, many local governments had reason to be concerned. Over the past decade, there has been an effort by some communities to establish their own Internet services. This represents a significant investment, and they do not want to have their authority preempted by the FCC. Representation of local governments on the regulatory commission is significantly lower than that of other types of organizations. Net neutrality provided the assurance that local governments would be able to control their own services.
Like any regulation, the details of net neutrality create advantages for some while presenting new obstacles to others. While some provisions of net neutrality are in the best interest of the public, we can all benefit from a better understanding of the details. While the recent FCC decision was a setback to those who sought the protection of the status quo, the debate over Internet regulations is far from over. It is incumbent upon those of us in leadership positions to understand the details and to strive to protect the competitive atmosphere that has fueled the many benefits provided by the Internet.
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