Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, small-business owners and local advocates joined U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar in Duluth on Friday for a discussion on restoring the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules.
The discussion came right after the FCC published its official order repealing net neutrality rules in the Federal Register Thursday. However, Klobuchar and other pro-net neutrality senators have approximately 60 legislative days to try to gather 51 votes in order to roll it back. According to Klobuchar, the Senate is already at 50 votes — all 49 Democratic senators and also Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
During Friday afternoon's discussion at Aimclear, Klobuchar said she's particularly concerned about the potential effects of the net neutrality ban for smaller cities like Duluth.
"Net neutrality is not just about one company having access, it's about everyone having equal access," Klobuchar said. "We want small- and mid-size cities like Duluth to be able to compete against metro areas where they might be able to have the benefits of being bigger."
Supporters of repealing net neutrality say it will allow for an open and free market for internet service providers to compete for customers. But for many areas in the United States, such as Duluth, the options for internet providers are few.
"A free market needs real competition on the ground to work, and in reality, people don't have many alternatives for their internet service," said Dr. Peter Peterson, assistant professor in the department of computer science at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
For Peterson and others who live just outside of Duluth, a digital subscriber line (DSL) is the only option for internet access.
"Since there's no competition, people would have to ask themselves, 'Do I trust the cable companies to do the right thing by rolling back net neutrality?'" Peterson said. "I know I don't."
Also a speaker at the discussion was Aimclear's chief technology officer, Joe Warner. With the net neutrality repeal, Warner said that the business they do with clients around the world would change dramatically.
"Net neutrality has protected countless businesses," Warner said. "Pretty much every single one of our clients would be impacted by this legislation."
All who spoke at the discussion Friday agreed that everyone must have fair and equal access to the internet.
"As a mayor, I am really concerned about ensuring that everybody has access to the internet and it isn't something that you have to pay to play on," Larson said. "There is nothing that will replace having equitable access to the internet."