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Originally published Friday, April 23, 2010 at 3:17 PM

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Guest columnist

Protect consumers by ensuring Internet freedom

The openness and freedom that lie at the heart of the Internet's success are in danger of being foreclosed under a recent federal court ruling, writes Congressman Jay Inslee, D-Wash. Congress and the Federal Communications Commission must ensure that Internet freedom prevails.

Special to The Times

FCC offers Internet workshop

The FCC will be holding an open Internet workshop in Seattle at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Jackson Federal Building. For more information go to: http://www.openinternet.gov/workshops/

THE Internet, arguably the fastest world-changing invention since the Gutenberg printing press, has become the core of our social and business lives. However, the openness and freedom that lie at the heart of the Internet's success is under threat.

A recent federal court ruling determined that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not have the authority to regulate Internet service providers to prevent them from restricting access to the Internet. Put simply, service providers would have the power to control the pipes that deliver content to consumers and with it the ability to play favorites or discriminate against bits of data.

And how important is this open platform to the success of the Internet and the influence it has on our daily lives?

In 1995, 45.1 million people around the world were online; in 2009, that number hit 1.75 billion with 252 million in the United States alone.

Facebook boasts 400 million users, YouTube users watch 12.2 billion videos each month, and Twitter averages 27.3 million tweets per day.

We use the Internet to connect with friends and family, conduct business, share ideas, further our understanding of the world, and as an outlet for our creative endeavors. And perhaps more importantly, the Internet has become an economic engine generating 3.1 million new jobs and giving more than 20,000 of the smallest businesses in the United States access to the global marketplace.

Without this open structure there would be no Amazon, no Facebook, no YouTube and no Twitter.

Freedom of expression, innovation and choice drive our economy. Because of the Internet's open platform, entrepreneurs have started small businesses, innovators have created online services, and webcasters have produced a diversity of news-information sources. We must make sure that winners and losers are decided by the marketplace, and not your Internet service provider.

This court ruling has the potential to dramatically alter our ability to choose what we want to watch and read online and who has the power to create and innovate. Who will choose: a few giant broadband providers (or telephone and cable) companies or millions of individuals?

And think of this likely scenario: A large broadband provider buys your local TV station or a network, while at the same time is the only company in your area offering Internet service. Would they simply slow the bandwidth available to view or download information from other news sites? Or would they go even further and simply block your access to content they don't have a financial stake in?

In addition, the court's ruling could dismantle FCC plans to improve and extend broadband service to areas now greatly underserved by the information superhighway in rural areas across Washington state and the country — costing our economy the jobs that would come with it.

The next world-changing idea on the Internet, the next YouTube, the next Kiva.org, the next mom-and-pop online business, might interfere with Internet service providers' interests and they could block it before it had a chance to flourish. If available information is critical to customer choice, they could suppress it. All because it is better for their bottom dollar.

Without addressing the rules, service providers will become the arbitrators of the Internet. They will decide what you can and cannot access.

This is not a new fight for me. From my first years in Congress I have fought the scourge of media consolidation and was one of the first sponsors of Net-neutrality legislation. Now as then, and as a co-sponsor of HR 3459, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, I am committed to working with the FCC and my colleagues in Congress to pass legislation that would give the power of choice to consumers by enabling the FCC to regulate broadband providers to keep the pipes of information flowing freely.

Like any good marketplace, rules must be in place to allow fair play and we can't let the refs be pulled from the field.

Congressman Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, represents Washington's 1st Congressional District.

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