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Originally published Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 5:22 PM

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Editorial: Keep Internet access wide open

As cable giant Comcast works on building Internet toll booths, the Federal Communications Commission must actively defend net neutrality.

Seattle Times Editorial

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HOW much warning does the Federal Communications Commission need about the imminent demise of net neutrality?

The idea of a free and open Internet for all users and technologies is heading toward a toll booth. Last month Netflix cut a deal with Comcast to spritz up delivery of videos, a deal the Netflix chief executive officer belatedly regrets.

Now it is media giant Apple that is flirting with Comcast about priority access to its customers. Net neutrality is about preventing Internet service providers from discriminating between different kinds of content and applications online.

The erosion of net neutrality is intended to rig the game, so broadband customers pay more to their ISPs for special service, or companies pay more directly to the ISPs and then raise prices for their own customers.

As Free Press, an advocacy group on media and technology issues, notes: “The biggest cable and telephone companies would like to charge money for smooth access to websites, speed to run applications, and permission to plug in devices.”

So much for access and innovation in a system that thrived because of uninhibited access and the competition from new ideas.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said his agency will try again to craft regulations to ensure open access to the Internet. He pledged this effort after a federal U.S. Court of Appeals ruling once again knocked down tepid FCC regulations for ISPs.

Indeed, the court pointed the FCC toward the legal status of common carriers for broadband providers, the same as a telecommunications service.

The broadband industry wants to pick and choose providers, fiddle with service quality and keep inching up subscriber costs. The FCC must craft rules that can withstand legal scrutiny, and scrap the dreams of Internet toll booths.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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