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It’s your job, Illinois, to save the internet

Springfield can’t ignore the peril any longer. Legislators had better get to work.

An internet connection panel.
Sun-Times Media

Rich and powerful people are not allowed to honk you off the road or ban you from driving down a public highway.

Yet you will face precisely that danger when using the internet if a handful of Big Tech companies, supported by the Trump administration, are allowed to pick and choose who gets access, largely based on who can pay.

A bill pending in Springfield, which we support, would protect the current open internet in Illinois. It is part of a state-by-state effort to thwart a Federal Communications Commission effort to end “net neutrality” — equal internet access for everybody.

The Illinois General Assembly has been slow to respond to this looming attack on an open internet, viewing it as a federal issue. But a federal appellate court ruling last week sent the message that Illinois and other states no longer can do nothing.

The court upheld the FCC’s repeal of regulations designed to protect net neutrality but also ruled that states are free to write their own rules.

Illinois legislators take heed.

We have grown accustomed to an internet that offers a level playing field. We can navigate online as we please, shopping here and reading there. A big corporation can set up a website, but so too can a small start-up — for no extra internet service charge and enjoying the same high-speed delivery.

But the FCC in 2017, in the name of deregulation across government, threw out Obama-era rules prohibiting broadband internet providers, such as Comcast and AT&T, from blocking websites or charging more for higher delivery speeds and certain content.

We know the internet can feel like a circus. We’re as fed up as anybody with the extremists and the trolls. But the internet is also the 21st century’s primary marketplace of ideas and commerce, and that positive purpose in a free society will be diminished if the big broadband service providers are allowed to monetize who gets access.

Chicago Sun-Times. SOURCE: National Conference of State Legislatures

Five states have enacted legislation to protect so-called “net neutrality.” Twenty-nine other states, including Illinois, are considering legislation.

The Illinois bill, bottled up in the House Rules Committee, is fairly narrow in scope. It would require that any internet service provider that does business with state agencies honor net neutrality standards. It also would require internet service providers to disclose whether they are, more generally, adhering to net neutrality.

It’s unlikely the bill, which could be tweaked, will be taken up for consideration in the upcoming veto session. But when the Legislature returns in January, we urge lawmakers to dislodge the bill, ignore the pleading of an army of lobbyists, and pass it.

If enough states — especially big ones like California, New Jersey and Illinois — establish net neutrality rules, service providers will have little choice, as a practical matter, but to abide by net neutrality nationwide.

Don’t let the rich and powerful dictate who wins and loses on the internet.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.