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NH businesses worry over internet speed changes after FCC vote

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 14. 2017 12:56AM
Net neutrality advocates rally in front of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ahead of Thursday's expected FCC vote repealing so-called net neutrality rules in Washington on Wednesday. (REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Varadaraj Pai testifies on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Ron Sachs/CNP/Zuma Press/TNS)

MANCHESTER — Several New Hampshire businesses are urging the feds to preserve rules that prevent internet service providers from creating faster-speed lanes for certain websites or making the internet less democratic.

“Under this change, internet providers would gain new powers to steer businesses and customers one way or another,” said a letter from eight New England businesses, including Stonyfield Farm in Londonderry.

The letter, sent to congressional offices in New England, said an expected Thursday vote before the Federal Communications Commission on whether to repeal the net neutrality rules would have “a crippling effect on rural economies, further restricting access to the internet for rural businesses at a point in time where we need to expand and speed this access instead.”

Supporters of ending the neutrality rules, including FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, said the concerns are overblown.

Pai said ending the Obama-era net neutrality rules would bring back “light touch” regulations from a previous era when providers mostly stuck with neutrality ideas anyway. He said much of the fuss about net neutrality is really about Silicon Valley giants trying to “cement their dominance over the internet economy.”

A Comcast official on Wednesday said the internet provider didn’t plan to create fast lanes.

“Comcast customers will continue to enjoy all of the benefits of an open internet today, tomorrow, and in the future,” said David Cohen, Comcast’s senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer. “We’ve said consistently we’ve not entered into paid prioritization agreements and have no plans to do so.”

Londonderry’s FoodState, which produces and distributes the premium supplement brands MegaFood and Innate Response, and the Boloco restaurant in Hanover also signed on to the letter.

Britt Lundgren, Stonyfield’s director of organic and sustainable agriculture, said, “I am not optimistic about the FCC vote (today), but my hope is Congress will do the right thing and fix it.”

Boloco’s website on Wednesday carried the message: “The FCC is about to vote on its plan to kill net neutrality. We have just days to stop censorship, throttling and extra fees online. Congress needs to hear from Internet users like you right now.”

Throttling lowers the speed of information traveling over the internet.

A new survey by the University of Maryland showed 83 percent of Americans — including 75 percent of Republicans — support keeping the existing rules after being presented detailed arguments on both sides.

The FCC vote to repeal current net neutrality rules “should concern New Hampshire Internet users,” said Toral Cowieson, chair of the New Hampshire High-Tech Council.

Internet service providers could compromise the “free flow of information, competition on the marketplace, consumer choice and privacy protections,” said Cowieson, who also is senior director of internet leadership at the Internet Society, an organization working to keep the internet open and transparent.

The Washington Post contributed to this report.

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