Protesters rally against net neutrality repeal

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BENNINGTON — Speaking out against the proposed repeal of net neutrality rules, a group of demonstrators gathered at the Four Corners intersection on Thursday evening.

Some 10 people showed up to the GoWireless Verizon authorized retailer on Main Street for the demonstration. They held candles or flashlights as well as signs

The demonstration comes as federal regulators are set to roll back existing rules for net neutrality, the concept that companies have to treat all internet traffic equally.

Nationwide, protests were organized by the Demand Progress, Free Press Action Fund and other groups. Verizon has been brought into their focus because of the company's support to the changes as well as FCC Chairman Aijit Pai's ties with the company, according to the Demand Progress website.

Jim Prendergast, with the the Greater Bennington Peace and Justice Center, said he doesn't own a cell phone and, mostly, uses the Internet for email.

"But it's one of last vestiges we have for first amendment being open and free," he said. "If it goes the way of cable TV and satellite radio, not only will it become unaffordable for many people, it will be restrictive in what we can see, listen to and hear."

Prendergast said he had attended a similar protest in Latham, N.Y. on Thursday afternoon. There, he spoke with a young IT consultant.

"He was worried for the future of his job," he said. "He said that if this goes through, people won't be able to afford his services. He's afraid he'll lose his job and his company will shut down."

Hundreds of protests were planned in all 50 states on Thursday. The FCC is set to vote on the issue next Thursday.

Net-neutrality supporters warn that without these rules in place, service providers could block any website or app they want, or degrade service so much that it doesn't work well. They could also charge extra to use certain websites or mobile device applications.

The debate is over Obama-era rules that the FCC chairman, chosen by President Donald Trump, wants to roll back. The rules prevent phone and cable companies from favoring certain websites and apps and give the FCC more oversight over privacy and the activities of telecom companies. AT&T, Comcast and Verizon are among the service providers that have opposed the FCC rules, as have many Republican officials, saying they hurt investment in internet infrastructure and represent too much government involvement in business. Internet companies, consumer-advocacy groups and Democratic officials have generally been in favor of net-neutrality rules.

"It's just one more outrage by the current administration," said Tim Scoggins, one of a few members of the political group We the People of Shaftsbury who attended the protest. "There's no justification for it except for enrichment of wealthy and powerful."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Ed Damon can be reached at edamon@benningtonbanner.com, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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