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Municipalities have the power to change the structure of the internet in the wake of the FCC's decision to go along with the "pay to play" model embraced by many of the ISPs that you pay for access to your internet.

The definition of a common carrier is a person or company that transports goods or passengers on regular routes at set rates. Last year the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had a tough time with labeling internet service providers (ISPs) as common carriers, despite the fact that they provide transportation of data at a set rate. The FCC was attempting to label those ISPs as common carriers so that they could be regulated as far as the transmission of their data, the regulation being that no data can be favored over other data; the very definition of net neutrality. Unfortunately, the courts did not agree with the FCC’s authority and struck down the rule.

Thus, the FCC has declared a new course. Instead of asking ISPs as common carriers not to discriminate between different types of data, it would appear that the agency is preparing to embrace a “pay to play” model whereupon heavier data users, such as Netflix, will pay for bandwidth.

This is an incredibly slippery slope we now find ourselves upon. If Netflix has to pay your ISP (Time Warner, ComCast, etc.) for data so that you can pay Netflix to watch, and you already pay your ISP for access to the internet to watch Netflix, what is to stop them from taking the additional step of deciding who gets to pay so that you can pay? They’re double dipping! Just think about how mad you get at a theme park when they ask you to pay $20 to park on top of your admission. Small providers are certain to be left out in the cold. It will certainly destroy anyone creating data heavy content like games, podcasts, and videos.

This is where you and your local government can make a change. ISPs require infrastructure. They need that five feet between the street you live on and your property to run cabling so that you can pay them for service. That five feet belongs to your local government and is the basis for all utilities. Because of that space you can modify their behavior, charge them, or even create competition with them if they won’t play ball. Look in your local city’s budget for a “CATV Franchise Fee”. That’s what we’re talking about here.

A small town in Alberta has used this power to launch its own ISP by laying its own fiber optic cabling. It’s a government owned provider charging $57 a year for Google Fiber-like speeds. It cost them $13 million which they aim to make back in ten years--not a bad deal for significantly better and cheaper internet. Competition like that is what will lead to a free and open internet, even if regulators aren’t able to achieve it.

So here’s the deal: the next time you ask why you don’t have decent sidewalks, bike lanes or fire hydrants, throw in internet services as well. Why don’t we have three or four companies--or even a utility run by the government--to compete for us as customers? Why are we letting them get away with it for free? Think about that, and then make a call to your local representatives. Tell them you want a free and open internet.

Jon Tietz is a local activist, teacher, videographer, and web developer in New Port Richey. He operates as a local, independent news source.

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