December 15, 2017 10:47:24 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
The news that the Federal Communications Commission had voted 3-2 along party lines to repeal "net neutrality" broke just as Brandon Presley was preparing to speak to the Columbus Exchange Club Thursday at Lion Hills Center.
But the Northern District commissioner and chairman of Mississippi's Public Service Commission needed little time to collect his thoughts on the topic, delivering a smoking rebuke of the ruling.
"This is very important and a very bad deal for consumers," Presley told his audience. "Three years ago, the FCC said internet providers cannot discriminate against competition on the basic platform of the internet. Today, all that changed and not for the benefit of the average consumer."
Thursday's decision to do away with the 2015 regulations that prevented internet service companies from charging fees for access to popular internet-based sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Instagram and thousands of others or offering tier-based feeds that would provide faster access to premium customers and slower speeds to lower tier customers is devastating, Presley said.
"You and I and the FCC don't know what the full effect of this ruling will be, but common sense tells us that the internet is going to be slower and more expensive," Presley said. "You and I know that if there is an ability to raise rates on a service we all need, those rates are going to go up.
"You just can't find anything in this that is on the side of the average consumer," he added. "Charge me more and slow down my service? I don't think so. The fact of the matter is this opens the door for a massive change in how we get our internet service and how we pay for it."
Thursday's ruling comes after the Republicans took control of the FCC following the presidential election. The three Republicans on the FCC voted in favor of the ruling while the two Democrats opposed the change.
But Presley said it's not a partisan issue, but a lobbying issue.
"I think there are a lot of people I know in Congress on the other side who are just as upset about this as I am," said Presley, a Democrat.
Not among those opposed is Rep. Gregg Harper, a Republican from Starkville, who was one of the members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and its Subcommittee on Communications and Technology to sign a letter sent to the FCC supporting Thursday's repeal of the net neutrality rules. According to the Center for Responsible Politics, Harper, now in his eighth year in Congress, has received $245,200 in campaign contributions from the telecommunications industry.
The ruling comes at a time when Presley has been working to extend broadband internet service to the vast areas of rural Mississippi which are still without access. Thursday's ruling runs contrary to that effort, he said.
"I'll go back to the days of rural electrification under Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal," he said. "At that time, we said as a country that it would be a priority to get electric service to everyone in America. If the electric power providers at the time didn't want to go into these rural areas because it wasn't profitable, laws were written to allow co-ops to form and provide electricity in those places.
"We believed then that it was in America's best interest to provide electric service to everybody in America," he added. "It's the same with internet access. Every Mississippian should have access to high-speed internet service at an affordable rate. If the free market can't or won't give it to them, we have to form co-ops that will."
Presley said the FCC ruling, coupled with lack of internet access in rural areas of the state, represent an "infrastructure crisis."
"It doesn't get the headlines like roads and bridges, but it's every bit as important," Presley said. "Rural Mississippians feel they've been left out and forgotten. Today's ruling by the FCC only complicates the problem, no matter where you live. It's emblematic of an FCC that is out of touch with people in rural parts of America. It's saying if you live in a rural area and can't get service or you can't afford what we are charging you no matter where you live, you can go pound sand.
"This is wrong. The FCC is wrong," he said.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]