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Mon, Nov. 18

Micek: Streaming ‘Game of Thrones?’ You should care about net neutrality bill

If you’re like me, you’re probably going to sit down on Sunday night, popcorn and adult beverage in hand, to watch the start of the final season of “Game of Thrones.”

And if, like me, you’re one of the roughly 33 million other Americans last year who were expected to cut the cord with their cable companies, then you’re probably watching “Game of Thrones” on your laptop or streaming device.

So, Mother of Dragons, you’re going to need to pay attention to some recent developments in Washington.

This week, the majority-Democrat U.S. House voted to reinstate Obama-era “net neutrality” rules that prevent internet service providers from meddling with web traffic.

The “Save the Internet Act,” sponsored by Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., passed on a 232-190 vote, largely along party lines. One Republican, Rep. Bill Posey, of Florida, broke ranks with the GOP to side with Democrats.

President Trump’s Federal Communications Commission reversed the rules in 2017 - a major win for big telecom like Comcast and Verizon, who were effectively freed to charge super-users more for their data consumption and cut off the competition at the knees.

But the bill is in for a bumpy ride in the Republican-controlled Senate, where, according to Slate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pronounced it “dead on arrival.”

As an added bonus, Slate reports, aides to President Trump have recommended a veto. Which is a shame, because if there’s anyone who needs access to streaming high-quality historical documentaries about the basics of American history, it’s Trump.

Last year, the Senate approved a resolution to undo the administration’s rule reversal, with the support of Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Every Democratic senator backed the resolution. Even still, it failed to get the votes for passage in the Republican-controlled House, Slate noted.

According to Doyle, it’s likely that lawmakers will face some significant pressure from the folks back home to approve the legislation, something that’s backed up by polling data.

As ZDNet reports, 80 percent of respondents to a recent Comparitech Poll said they supported net neutrality. The support, according to ZDNet, cuts across party lines: 87 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republican respondents said they supported net neutrality.

We’re now at a point where there’s a nexus between the content-creators and the content-providers. And anything that further cements that relationship - and chokes off choice - is a bad thing.

“In other words, major ISPs will be able to promote the media companies they own … while punishing competitors’ offerings,” Paul Blumenthal wrote for HuffPost in 2017. “That will force consumers, who often have no choice in internet service providers, into walled gardens of content that the ISPs create.”

The other issue is that while many Americans have access to broadband internet, there are many thousands more - particularly in rural areas - who do not. As ZDNet also reports, research by Microsoft found that 162.8 million people (that’s half the nation, by the way) don’t have access to broadband-speed access.

The digital divide is one of the starker reminders of the gap between the haves- and the have-nots in Donald Trump’s America.

It’s nearly impossible to do anything these days - from registering to vote and paying your electric bill to shopping or obtaining access to basic information - without an internet hook-up. And there is nothing less patriotic than balkanizing Americans and cutting them off from a civic debate that occurs largely online, simply because of an accident of geography.

In the early 1990s, when the first blush of this thing called the internet was upon us, it was viewed as a liberating force, one that would level the playing field by democratizing the flow of information and opening channels of communication to everyone.

It has been successful - and failed - beyond our wildest expectations. For every social media campaign that’s resulted in policy change, there’s been the revelation of foreign meddling and the unsettling, but inevitable, reality that the concept of “online privacy” is now an oxymoron.

While the early days of the internet are long gone, the restoration of net neutrality rules would at least restore some fairness and preserve consumer freedoms.

And that doesn’t seem like a whole lot to ask.

Call your Senator and let them know winter will be coming if they don’t vote to support the House bill.

An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at jmicek@penncapital-star.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.

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