Blocked Access: Why Net Neutrality Repeal is Bad for Rural America

Two years ago, I brought U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to Mandan Middle School. We sat down with 60 eighth-grade science students, and together we Skyped with Dr. Karen Nyberg — an astronaut, mechanical engineer, and the first University of North Dakota graduate to visit space.

During our Skype session, the students asked Dr. Nyberg insightful questions about her time living and working on board the International Space Station. It was reliable, high-speed Internet that allowed these bright middle schoolers to access incredible education opportunities, ask deeper questions, and gain the knowledge and skills needed to contribute to a stronger long-term economy, including in fields as complex as aviation engineering and manned spaceflight.

NASA astronaut and engineer — and University of North Dakota alumna — Dr. Karen L. Nyberg answers questions from Mandan Middle School students during a Skype session.

In North Dakota, free and fair access to the Internet has connected our rural communities and schools. It has supported homegrown startups and innovative online companies. And the Internet has allowed our state to remain highly competitive in a global economy. Much of that healthy competition and growth has been fostered through federal net neutrality rules that have promoted fundamental fairness on the web and guaranteed everyone’s freedom to equally access the Internet’s educational, entertainment, and commercial opportunities.

But on Monday, April 23rd, the FCC officially repealed net neutrality rules, and the impacts of this misguided decision could be felt by every North Dakota family, business, or school that relies on affordable and reliable Internet.

This rollback dramatically violates the principles of Internet freedom, and now there’s little to stop providers from increasing rates, throttling speeds, or blocking streaming websites. Without net neutrality, there can now be slow lanes and fast lanes on the Internet. And if you’re stuck in a traffic jam, only those who pay more may be able to get out of it.

The digital revolution wasn’t sparked by giving unfair priority to the profits of big business. Instead, it was spurred on by risk-taking, innovative ventures — often started by tiny groups of individuals — that used their great ideas to better the lives of consumers and grow local economies. And these online pioneers relied on the certainty of equal access to the Internet.

Many states have already begun legal actions to make sure their providers continue to abide by net neutrality rules. If our public officials are actually serious about promoting opportunity and innovation for all citizens, then we need to protect a level online playing field and restore Internet freedom now. We can’t just trust that some businesses say they will be fair, we have to make sure it happens — with strong net neutrality rules in place.

On May 16th, I was proud to join a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Senate in voting to restore net neutrality, marking a major step in making sure everyone is treated fairly and equally when accessing the Internet. Now, the House of Representatives needs to step up and pass our bipartisan resolution.

This isn’t a partisan issue — it’s about protecting an essential public good for all consumers and small businesses, especially in rural areas.

I’ve heard from over 5,500 North Dakotans about net neutrality — many young high school and college kids involved in the process of government for the first time — and all but 10 of them support keeping strong net neutrality rules. It’s clear that North Dakotans overwhelmingly understand the importance of a free and fair Internet for our state’s economic vitality. This repeal is the wrong direction for rural America, and I will continue to fight for North Dakota’s right to equal access for all of our citizens.

There is absolutely nothing fair or democratic in prioritizing Internet access for the highest bidder — and it certainly doesn’t foster an environment that encourages innovation. Instead, the voices of the American people were ignored, and the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office opened an investigation into whether public comments in support of the rollback were fraudulent and stole the identities of thousands of Americans to back the priorities of special interests. The ability to access the Internet’s critical services shouldn’t depend on the size of your business, the number of providers in your area, or how much money you make.

Unmatched access to the Internet allowed our nation to become the technology leader of the world. We can’t slow down now, especially as our communities are building successful businesses and startups and as educational opportunities for our kids increasingly move to the web.

The next generation of innovators and astronauts are counting on us.

Official Medium account for Heidi Heitkamp, former U.S. Senator for #NorthDakota. This is an inactive account.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store