Chances are you’re reading this on your computer or mobile phone — which after last year’s net neutrality debate, you might have thought would be an impossibility. Despite hysteria that the sky was falling or that the Trump administration had “killed the internet,” it is very much alive and well today. As for the net neutrality debate? It appears to be rekindling — and that’s truly a shame because when it comes to the future of the internet here in Alaska, there are much bigger fish to fry.
Net neutrality is important, but a lot has changed since it became a household name. Today a consumer’s time online is spent browsing Facebook, checking email and streaming movies on Netflix. The internet is no longer just about you and your Internet Service Provider, and the rules that govern it shouldn’t be either. At a time when Alaskans are already at a significant disadvantage with 39 percent of the population having limited access to broadband — compared to only 8 percent in California — our leaders in Washington need to propose sensible solutions to our everyday problems.
What consumers want is clear — they want simple, easy to understand consumer privacy rules that protect personal data, and guardrails in place to ensure that everyone on the internet is treated fairly. At the end of the day, isn’t that what net neutrality was supposed to be all about?
Unfortunately for Alaskans, Washington loves to play games of political ping-pong. In 2015, the Obama administration reclassified the internet as an information service under Title II, forcing internet providers to be at the behest of the federal government. This requirement put a damper on the internet business, delaying and discouraging the completion of critical internet infrastructure projects. Not only did the Obama administration hurt the expansion of broadband across the Last Frontier, they used a 1930s regulation to get it done, taking the internet from the 21st century to the 20th, and moving the U.S. further away from achieving real internet neutrality. Thankfully, in 2017, the Trump administration lifted this burden, once again opening up the internet for business.
Fast forward to 2019 and some Democrats in Washington want to bring back the Obama-era regulations. Alaskans should reject this proposal. We should work toward creating solutions that close the digital divide, protect consumers’ personal data and promote technological innovation, not do what is politically convenient for those in Silicon Valley.
If Congress wants to act they first need to look at the entire internet ecosystem, not just a piece of it. We can all agree the internet should be free from the blocking, throttling and censorship of content, but our representatives in Washington need to get a better grasp on who’s doing what these days.
Alaskans deserve an internet where everyone plays by the same set of rules and where everyone is held to the same standards. In 2019, our leaders in Washington need to recognize that the gatekeepers of the internet have changed and understand that the net neutrality rules of the past do nothing to address the concerns of today.
• Shane Tews is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute focusing on technology, communications and cyber security. She is also the president of Logan Circle Strategist where she focuses on technology, cybersecurity, internet and data governance. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.