Two members of the Federal Communications Commission are visiting Minneapolis today for a public hearing on what role the government should play in regulating the Internet.
Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn are both sympathetic to groups that have pushed the idea of network neutrality, meaning Internet users and websites large and small would be treated equally on broadband and other Internet networks.
Supporters of net neutrality say all web content should move at the same speed and Internet service providers shouldn't be able to give preferential treatment to certain content.
Democratic Sen. Al Franken has also advocated for net neutrality and will appear with Copps and Clyburn at the hearing sponsored by Free Press, Main Street Project and the Center for Media Justice.
“We do not want our Internet to be handed over to corporations.”Josh Silver, president of Free Press
Josh Silver, president of Free Press, said the hearing was organized in response to a policy proposal Google and Verizon presented in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. The proposal includes an opportunity for broadband companies to develop new and "differentiated" online services.
Google and Verizon say the proposal would keep the Internet open, but Silver said he's concerned it would effectively eliminate net neutrality and allow certain information being sent and received over the Internet to get priority.
"We do not want our Internet to be handed over to corporations," Silver said. "We are at a critical juncture, when decisions are being made over these seemingly wonky issues like net neutrality that will have a profound impact on the people of Minnesota and people across the country." Silver and Adam Thierer, president and director of the Center for Digital Media Freedom, were guests on MPR's Midmorning on Thursday.
While Free Press and other groups advocate for net neutrality, Thierer's group argues that too much government regulation would discourage innovation. He also says the claim that Google and Verizon's proposal would end net neutrality is exaggerated.
“We're always going to have a basic level of service.”Adam Thierer, with the Center for Digital Media Freedom
Thierer said there should be opportunities for companies like Google and Verizon to offer priority services as long as they also offer basic Internet services. Thierer said every sector of the economy allows forms of service prioritization and price differentiating, such as flying first class on an airline or paying more for a hotel suite.
"This is what makes a capitalist economy tick," Thierer said.
"It doesn't mean consumers are blocked from having a basic type of service and nor will that be the case in the future for broadband," he said. "We're always going to have a basic level of service but maybe there can also be specialized or prioritized services where we charge users who demand more of something for that special right of access."
The public hearing takes place at 6 p.m. at South High School Auditorium, 3131 19th Ave. S., Minneapolis.
You can listen to Kerri Miller's full interview with Silver and Thierer here.