Equal Internet for all

I spent this past weekend in San Francisco, holed up at a digital media conference. There, we talked effective online reporting, social-media engagement, resources and more.

There were interesting ideas, big and small. Thoughtful discussions and insightful tips. It didn't take long to be reminded, however, that none of it really matters if we don't first talk improved access.

Access to fast, reliable Internet is a significant issue in lower-income neighborhoods and schools. President Barack Obama addressed the topic during his January 20 State of the Union address. Then, the president vowed “to protect a free and open Internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community.” More importantly, he tasked the Federal Communications Commission with challenging state laws that block the construction of municipal broadband networks—high-speed, community-run Internet services.

The president's proposal would require the Internet be treated like any other utility—electricity, water, et al. Translated, that means the same standards would apply regardless of what platform (desktop, tablet, smartphone) consumers used.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler agreed, at least in part. He's endorsing the implementation of net neutrality, the idea that all Internet traffic be treated equally, thus making it illegal for service providers to favor some sites in exchange for higher fees.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on this on February 26. A yes vote is the only right vote. Net neutrality doesn't just mean a cheaper price tag and faster speeds for binge-watching, it means everyone is guaranteed speedy and reliable access.

It's time for the Internet to be treated as less of a plaything, as just another luxury. The Internet is an important resource and utility. It's a modern survival tool.