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Net neutrality supporters protest Verizon for supporting FCC changes

SALT LAKE CITY — While only a small group of net neutrality supporters gathered Thursday morning to protest at the Sugar House Verizon store, more than 700 actions were held throughout the day at locations around the country.

Organizers and participants took to the streets to signify their opposition to a set of rule changes, scheduled for a vote on Dec. 14, proposed by the Trump-appointed chairman of the Federal Communication Commission and former Verizon lawyer, Ajit Pai. If adopted, the new rules would reverse the current regulations that govern internet service providers as utility-like companies and move them under the less stringent rules for "information services" companies.

One of the most impactful differences in these regulatory approaches is that the utility classification forbids internet service providers from throttling or boosting connections to certain websites, while the lighter information service designation would allow providers to do just that, albeit with a requirement to notify customers of those practices as part of their terms of service noticing.

Millcreek resident Therus "Dutch" Kolff attended the Sugar House protest Thursday and said he believes many people just aren't paying enough attention to changes that could signficantly impact how the internet works for the average user.

"I don’t think that people are aware of the consequence to them and/or all the things that they do with the internet if it doesn’t continue to be a utility," Kolff said. "We’ve already seen in the past were ISPs have choked down content providers, now as we see them merge more and more, there are going to be ISPs that are also supplying content. They’re going to flow their own content and choke down the rest."

Kolff reached out to members of Utah's congressional delegation and received emails back from Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Stewart, both of whom expressed their support of Pai's proposal. GOP Sen. Mike Lee's office also told the Deseret News that Lee was in support of the changes.

Protester Bryan Huxford, a Park City resident, said he felt the FCC's proposed changes we're being driven more by corporate interests than the need to protect the rights of internet users.

"Technology and information is the driving factor of America right now," Huxford said. "This is going to be the biggest decision made in the information age."

Kolff also noted that many internet customers, including himself, have only one broadband provider offering service, which he said undermines the "free market" argument that's been made by proponents of the regulations changes.

And Kolff is not alone. According to the Utah Broadband Outreach Center, over 170,000 Utahn's only have one provider option for service of 25 Mbps or greater, the FCC's minimum speed classification for broadband service.