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Net neutrality

A protester holds a sign that reads "Resist the FCC" at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington on Dec. 14. The FCC voted to eliminate net-neutrality protections for the internet. 

The Federal Communications Commission has let Americans down by scrapping its net neutrality rules.

Now, states have rightfully taken it upon themselves to protect the idea of a free and open internet once guaranteed by the regulatory agency. In that arena, Nebraska has the chance to emerge as one of the early leaders.

Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld has introduced the Internet Neutrality Act, LB856, aimed at reinstituting the federal regulations – treating all traffic the same and barring providers from blocking, slowing or charging access to particular content – that are phasing out and enshrining them in state code.

Opposition to the FCC’s decision transcends party affiliation or seemingly any other division. The Journal Star editorial board remains firmly in support of net neutrality and supports efforts such as this to restore it.

The day his bill was introduced, Morfeld told the Journal Star that his proposal was “an economic development and consumer protection bill,” before correctly noting that “the internet drives the economy.”

What’s often lost in this debate is that the internet has become the great equalizer for businesses. While ending the protections is pitched as a pro-business move for the telecommunications industry, it overlooks the benefits reaped in countless other fields.

Net neutrality ensured, among so many other things, entrepreneurs can market and sell goods anywhere. For every Amazon or Airbnb, there are thousands of smaller operations, ranging from handmade crafts on Etsy to one of Lincoln’s many digitally oriented startups. That’s largely possible because of what a content-neutral internet guarantees.

A “pay-for-play” arrangement, as allowed by the FCC’s repeal, jeopardizes that. In a world without net neutrality, internet service providers would have the ability to block, slow or charge for sites they don’t own. This could severely hamper the free-market exchange of goods and ideas taking place online.

Access to affordable high-speed internet is essential to the future of Nebraska’s rural areas, too. Any economic development plan to help drive jobs to those regions and reverse years of depopulation seems to entail working remotely from a small town or farm. Without a steady, cost-efficient internet connection, that’s impossible.

Clearly, net neutrality is good business for Nebraska. But what, if anything, the state will see if Morfeld’s bill is passed is far murkier.

The FCC has pre-emptively claimed its decision supersedes all state efforts to restore net neutrality. A federal regulatory agency declaring itself to be above duly passed state laws presents a Tenth Amendment question a court will no doubt be tasked with answering.

This much is certain, though: Federal officials have abdicated their responsibilities to internet users. Morfeld’s bill simply advocates for Nebraskans where the FCC has failed them.

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