When it comes to hurting businesses, schools and families in rural Oregon, the Federal Communications Commission decision to pull the plug last year on net neutrality really hurts.

Compounding the cruelty is the fact that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was wrong when he forecast that the death of net neutrality would unleash a wave of capital investment by Big Cable in its broadband network.

In fact, reports reveal that Comcast, Charter and Verizon all reduced capital expenditures in 2018.

Pai’s poor prediction only adds to the significant collateral damage wrought by the death of net neutrality, which provided pillars of protection for Americans on the internet.

Net neutrality is the principle that once you’ve paid your bill, you get to go where you want, how you want, on the internet. In other words, your phone or cable company should not get the power to favor which internet content a person can get access to by creating paid fast lanes online.

The ripples from this reversal are broad.

Start-up rural businesses could have a much harder time getting off the ground and reaching customers because they lack the resources to afford the top-notch internet speeds they need to grow. Rural health care could miss out on technological marvels that have the potential to save lives.

Children in poorer schools throughout Oregon, and nationwide, lose out when their libraries do not have the same internet speeds as libraries in wealthier schools. Those students have far less access to broadband, and killing net neutrality marks a devastating setback for those children and their access to equal educational opportunities.

And families can now be charged more for their Netflix and Hulu subscriptions, music services on Spotify, and video game downloads on Steam, Xbox and Playstation.

It didn’t have to be this way for net neutrality. And it doesn’t need to stay this way either.

The Senate last year passed a bipartisan resolution to overturn the anti-net neutrality rule. But that bit of common-sense consumer protection fell short in the House.

After last year’s elections, net neutrality advocates are in a much better position to correct the imbalances and pass good national net neutrality laws. (Happily, Oregonians and our representatives in Salem have already blazed that trail at the state level by enacting strong net neutrality protections into state law.)

As the first senator who introduced net neutrality legislation in the Senate more than a decade ago, I am proud to stand on the front lines of this year’s national fight for a solution that puts real enforceable net neutrality rules back on the books.

Everybody understands consumers must pay a fee to get access to the internet. But Big Cable shouldn’t get to rig the internet for the benefit only of those who can afford to pay more.

Instead, the question at the heart of the upcoming debate is, once consumers pay that fee, should they be allowed to go on the internet where they want, when they want, and how they want?

I believe the answer to that question is “Yes.”

———

Sen. Ron Wyden has represented Oregon in the U.S. Senate since 1996.

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