Not so neutral net? Montana companies watching FCC decision closely

Jason Williams, CEO of Blackfoot, a communications company based in Missoula, has urged Montana’s congressional leaders to make permanent rules protecting net neutrality. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Internet service providers across Montana are watching the Federal Communications Commission as it looks to roll back internet regulations, a move that some fear will enable companies to slow or block web content and treat users differently.

Ajit Pai, the Republican chairman of the FCC, said this week that the commission will move forward in December with a vote on whether to roll back net-neutrality rules and other regulations placed upon the internet during the Obama administration.

Montana Sen. Steve Daines praised the decision, calling current internet regulations “harmful.”

“Some of America’s greatest companies were born on the internet,” Daines said. “By dismantling harmful internet regulations, American companies will have an open internet that allows their business, and our economy, to grow.”

Whether the internet remains open as users have known it remains uncertain, as companies could gain the right to block certain content or charge users to access fast or slow information lanes. Several Montana companies expressed concern over the issue in August.

Jason Williams, CEO of Blackfoot Communications in Missoula, said the company would never block or throttle content. At the same time, he said, Blackfoot isn’t necessarily opposed to federal efforts to rewrite internet regulations.

“Blackfoot has never blocked lawful internet traffic or throttled lawful internet traffic,” Williams said Wednesday. “We support an open and free internet.”

Williams added that Blackfoot is waiting to see the FCC’s draft order, which has not yet been released. The company supports efforts to create fairness among internet providers and businesses that utilize the net.

As it stands, he said, Blackfoot can’t compete against the likes of Google and other internet giants.

“I’m okay with the FCC proposing these rules,” he said. “We’re going to continue to allow internet traffic to flow across our network regardless of what the FCC decides to do. My guess is, it will support what Blackfoot has been doing all along. We don’t need all the other regulations.”

Other Montana companies that rely on net neutrality are less confident in the FCC’s push to undo current regulations.

Allie DePuy, co-owner of Inspired Classroom in Missoula, fears the FCC will enable large corporations to restrict content, withhold knowledge and create a system of monopolies that will stifle small businesses.

“In a state as rural and as large as Montana, equality of access is not only critical, it’s morally imperative,” she said Wednesday. “All children need the opportunity to access mentors, in-depth learning experiences and current, reliable and unbiased content.”

Jessica Rosenworcel, the Democratic FCC commissioner, said efforts to end net neutrality will enable large providers to create winners and losers.

“Our internet economy is the envy of the world because it is open to all,” she said in a statement. “This proposal tears at the foundation of that openness. It hands broadband providers the power to decide what voices to amplify, which sites we can visit, what connections we can make, and what communities we create. It throttles access, stalls opportunity, and censors content.”