In a meeting at his Cranston office this afternoon, RI Sen. Jack Reed expressed unequivocal support for net neutrality to a group organized by Demand Progress.
"We need net neutrality," Reed said to the half-dozen constituents from around the state.
Reed first invited the group to share their perspectives, and the common theme was a concern that the FCC needs to take action once the period for comments on their proposed rule making ends on Sept. 10. Attendees included a librarian, an educator, a technology consultant, a musician, an activist, and a journalist, and everyone had a personal story about how the Rhode Islanders they work with would be impacted by a two-tiered Internet — the so-called "Fast Lanes" for access that could result if this year's Verizon v. FCC ruling prevents strong FCC regulation.
Reed acknowledged their concerns, and reiterated several times during the meeting that for him, "The objective is net neutrality." He compared the risk of pay-to-play fast lanes to the informational advantages sought by traders on Wall Street described in Michael Lewis's recent book Flash Boys.
Reed deferred judgement on the correct approach to achieve a level playing field — whether to push the FCC to reclassify broadband as a common carrie under Title II or see if they could craft rules under Section 706 that would survive the kind of legal challenge Verizon mounted. The regulatory issues, he noted, are complex. "We owe it to get the analysis on the table," he said, "and then make a judgement."
"They [the FCC] might even come back to us for legislation," he said.
The question of how best to implement rules that strike the appropriate balance between regulatory burden and public interest is one of the central questions in the FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
A group of online activist organizations, including Demand Progress, are planning an online day of action on Sept. 10, where web sites will put up simulated "loading" images to show the possible impact of a two-tiered Internet. Major sites — including Etsy, Kickstarter, Foursquare, Wordpress, Vimeo, reddit, Mozilla, Imgur, Meetup, Cheezburger, Namecheap, Bittorrent, Gandi.net, StartPage, BoingBoing, and Dwolla — will be among those displaying the dreaded spinning load icon, according to a press release from the organizers.
Full disclosure: As is probably apparent, I was the journalist at the meeting, and want to thank Sen. Reed for meeting with us and for his support of an open Internet. Oh, and come next Wednesday, you'll see that spinning icon on this site too.