Does Net Neutrality Work for NEO?

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Why OneCommunity is a strong and unwavering supporter of the principles of an Open Internet and Network Neutrality

—By Lev Gonick, CEO, OneCommunity

Lev Gonick, CEO OneCommunity

Lev Gonick, CEO OneCommunity

—You might be excused if you didn’t know that this Thursday your government will unveil a proposal that may be as important as the advent of the commercial Internet itself 21 short years ago.

The FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler, is the architect and champion of some of the most forward thinking I have seen in the past twenty years. Wheeler has a strong and clear point of view on federal authority and the regulatory environment directed at charting a competitive broadband economy over the next twenty years. Under his watch, Wheeler and his Commissioner colleagues will take up funding for 21st century digital infrastructure for education, public safety, health and wellness, rural connectivity, and workforce development—just as a starter. They will also be responsible for reviewing whether the proposed Comcast acquisition of Time Warner Cable is in the public interest. No small agenda of common concern and interest to all Americans and of keen and particular interest to us here in Northeast Ohio.

But none of these priority activities will be on the docket on Thursday. Indeed, none of these priority activities will get sorted out until the topic of so-called Network Neutrality that is being introduced on Thursday is attended to over the next 120 days (or so).  (See Wheeler’s recent blog post: “Setting the Record Straight on the FCC’s Open Internet Rules.”)

The process itself is deeply embedded in Beltway procedures that are at once arcane and at the same time too important to be left to the skilled lobbyists and lawyers alone. This really matters. There is no shortage of sources online that frame the national debate.

But what does the FCC Net Neutrality debate have to do with Northeast Ohio? Why should you care? You should care because the norms, rules, and principles of how the 21st century unfolds depend on a thoughtful and considered debate around Net Neutrality.  The policy framework that outlines who will win and who will lose, who will have advantages and who will be disadvantaged, who will have access to advanced healthcare and who will not, and who will be able to leverage personalized and adaptive education are all on the table in the Net Neutrality debate. And these all matter to Northeast Ohio. Indeed, perhaps more than many other parts of the country, how this debate unfolds will have long-term consequences for our ability to create a competitive region, an agile economy, support innovation, and increase access to and success in education. It all begins with whether we believe unfettered and undiscriminated access to the Internet is a right or a privilege.

Let me state our position. OneCommunity is a strong and unwavering supporter of the principles of an Open Internet and Network Neutrality.

By Open Internet I mean our commitment to allowing any organization or provider to acquire long-term rights to use our digital infrastructure known as dark fiber. This is a very important principle because we want to catalyze abundant use of that infrastructure to advance the priorities of the communities in the region. We are the region’s largest Open Internet provider.

None of the large incumbent Internet providers believe in an Open Internet. By Network Neutrality, I simply mean that whether you are a new startup working out of Shaker Launch House, Bizdom, or Flashstarts, you should have the same opportunity to innovate and advance your new, never before seen, interactive image search technology or immersive 3-D software, or tools for instrumenting the entire City as any of our largest enterprise customers.  OneCommunity is committed to both an Open Internet and Network Neutrality.

As a provider of advanced broadband services to the region’s public-benefit organizations we believe that demand for abundant Internet services will only grow. We have built one of the nation’s leading fiber optic networks because we believe that we do not live now, nor can we afford to embrace the flawed assumption that we will live in a broadband-constrained world.

The world of constrained broadband is, in many ways, a marketing and financial decision to create new and impressive recurring revenue and very very high profits. If the dominant Internet Service Providers insist that consumer enjoyment of Netflix and Hulu requires new rules that may lead to two tiers of services, one for those who can pay and one for those who are less able to pay, how will the rules inform the future of hundreds of thousands of daily home healthcare exchanges based on interactive ultra high definition video collaboration? Is such health and wellness services a right or an entitlement? What about the future of education for our region? Will the gap between have and have not school districts and neighborhoods be closed or exacerbated because of decisions being made today around throttling access because it advances a particular set of business assumptions?

The debate begins in earnest on Thursday. Lost in many of the arcane procedural details is a core question that we here in Northeast Ohio can reflect upon. There are many bold and exciting future scenarios that imagine new discovery, better education, safer communities, new jobs, healthier families, and unleashing innovation. Ours is a globally competitive world and communities and governments the world over all aspire to their own dreams about the art of the possible enabled by advanced broadband networks.

After all is said and done, I think that the debate comes down to whether those futures can be achieved more efficiently, expeditiously, and equitably by leaving the market alone without further regulation, or whether we need to support a competitive broadband ecosystem that includes additional public policy interventions to assure openness, opportunity, and the fiscal investments required to make sure that regions like ours thrive well into the 21st century.

Northeast Ohio aspires to be a region that attracts and retains talent and organizations that builds on strengths and offers new opportunities. The debates in Washington at the FCC are all about that future.

The stakes are high and the Commissioners at the FCC want to hear your voice. You can register your comment on “Protecting and Promoting an Open Internet” at

As a community broadband provider, OneCommunity believes that we are part of the future and look forward to playing a role to advance the region in both the Net Neutrality debate and the rest of the agenda in front of the FCC.

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