U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, were both in Joliet at the University of St. Francis on Tuesday to talk with students and community members about the future of net neutrality.
In December, the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission repealed the Obama-era “net neutrality” rules, which said all web traffic must be treated equally. The ruling set off a backlash from consumer advocates, web companies and everyday users of the internet in the U.S.
Democrats like Durbin and Foster argue that stripping the net neutrality rules could lead to internet service providers slowing or blocking access to services they don’t like or happen to be in competition with and charging them higher fees for better access. This could stifle certain users or websites from taking off, putting a burden on small businesses, entrepreneurs and others who rely on the internet.
“We happen to enjoy a situation right now that I think is the best circumstance,” Durbin said. “We all have free and open access to the internet. When it comes to the speed of the internet, the applications and your type of internet service, basically we’re all in this game together.”
Cynthia Fuerst of the Illinois Library Association, which has more than 300 members and advocates for all libraries in the state, spoke about her organization’s support of net neutrality in providing free internet access to everyone. Durbin and Foster also spoke about the chances that Congress might take action to overturn the FCC ruling. Durbin said that there is a possibility Democrats in the Senate, who have all said they would vote to overturn, could be successful, but the prospects in the House look less promising.
Attendees of the talk mostly had questions about what they could do in the event that the FCC ruling isn’t overturned to show their disapproval. Foster said the state of Illinois actually might have some leverage to persuade internet service providers to maintain net neutrality. But it might take a strong backlash from internet users once net neutrality ends to save it.
“If you’re trying to preserve an open market, either for products or for ideas, the internet should be neutral,” Foster said.