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Silicon Valley is public’s best hope in fight over net neutrality

Remember during the presidential campaign when Facebook had millions of Americans locked into echo chambers by limiting their access to news of a different partisan bent? Remember the damage it did to our democracy?

If Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai gets his way, that’s just the start.

On Wednesday, the Trump administration appointee reignited the fight over net neutrality, outlining a vague, but troubling plan to scrap government oversight of internet providers, such as Comcast or AT&T.

In essence, Pai believes broadband should no longer be treated as a public utility, like telephone service, and so it shouldn’t be subject to strict consumer protections. Instead, he wants to leave it up to providers to police themselves.

That’s right. Comcast and its fellow media conglomerates would pinky swear not to favor one type of website over another, treating all internet traffic equally. They would cross their hearts and hope to die, promising not to block or slow down videos streaming from Netflix or Hulu, even though the companies have an incentive to do so because they offer their own video services.

Such restraint is required now under rules passed by the Obama administration’s FCC. But under Pai and President Donald Trump, who eagerly rewarded corporations, it’s conceivable that Comcast could decide to throttle the websites of CNN or Fox News so its customers would be forced to get their news from the website of Comcast-owned MSNBC.

It’s also possible that AT&T or Verizon could start charging extra for its customers to access Facebook and Twitter, requiring a subscription to a social media bundle, much like cable TV providers make customers pay extra for premium sports channels.

This is something should worry every American who values an open internet. Far from a luxury, broadband is now how the world does business, at schools, banks and government agencies. It’s unavoidable.

Pai argues the current regulations stifle innovation. But hundreds of Silicon Valley startups and juggernauts, including Google, disagree. They side with net neutrality, which is good because a long legal battle awaits.

We consumers need the money and muscle of Silicon Valley on our side.

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