Last week was a banner moment for supporters of net neutrality, and for rural internet users. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released an op-ed that laid out his proposal for insuring that the internet remain an open place for everyone.
Chairman Wheeler proposed that the FCC use Title II of the Communications Act to reclassify broadband internet service providers as common carriers. Doing so would prevent them from charging a premium for prioritized ‘fast lanes’ on the internet. Net neutrality is valued so highly because it maintains the internet as an equal playing field for everyone.
Reclassification would benefit rural folks in another way. Besides ensuring that rural internet users wouldn’t be forced into internet slow lanes, reclassification would place the same requirements on internet service providers that exist for phone service. That means they would have to serve people that request service in their area and that service would have to be affordable and reliable.
While the FCC has yet to make a final decision, challenges are already forming to this approach, with aims to weaken measures that would maintain net neutrality and provide greater internet access. We need to share our stories with our representatives and tell them why an open internet and better access are essential to the future of our rural communities and small towns.
These requirements helped bring landline phone service to rural areas across the country, and soon we could see broadband internet follow the same path. The internet has become a vital part of running a business and staying connected to the rest of the world. Rural people shouldn’t settle for substandard service, but instead should demand access to the tools that bring new opportunities to our communities.