EDITORIAL: If Hawley's really after big tech, he must champion net neutrality

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If Missouri’s U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley is serious about his battle against “big tech,” the greatest victory he could win would be restoring net neutrality.

Hawley, in his first term, has targeted large technology firms such as Google and Facebook with upcoming legislation. He has announced legislation in two areas, targeting software publishers that market loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions to kids, and calling for a “do not call list”-style option to bar companies from tracking personal data.

While there’s nothing inherently concerning about either of these bills, they don’t strike us as urgent. But those two measures are small shots in this hunt.

If Hawley really wants to arm for bear against big tech, he could target internet service providers that would seek to limit customers from accessing whatever they choose.

Net neutrality is the philosophy that internet service providers should not limit or block content that its customers wish to access. That philosophy wasn’t codified into law until 2015 when the FCC created its legal framework.

But all that work was undone in 2017 when the FCC, led by chairman and presidential appointee Ajit Pai, undid the rules that bound service providers.

ISPs have a history of demonstrating the need for net neutrality — companies such as Comcast, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon have blocked customers from using websites or apps.

With the development of 5G networks in full swing, the internet is poised to be more important than ever for daily life. That’s why net neutrality is important.

. People of all political persuasions use the internet to inform others about issues they feel are important. Sometimes, the internet is used to mobilize people to act. Companies should not be able to silence those voices with a flick of a switch.

. Residents count on the internet for crucial information during times of emergency — we’ve seen how important streaming video on social networks becomes during floods and tornadoes.

. Consumers rely on a number of different news sources for information about local, state and national news. We suspect none of them would appreciate their chosen news source to be blocked by their provider.

The House has already passed the Save the Internet Act, which would restore the 2015 standards undone by the FCC. Hawley could make a difference today: He can use his influence to call for Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring the bill up for a vote.

Net neutrality is neither a liberal nor conservative issue. It’s an American issue. And Hawley could be its champion.

Copyright Joplin Globe. Reprinted with permission.

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