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MassLive: Editorial: The people come forward for a democratic Internet

When the FCC said it wanted to hear from the citizens, the people took the agency at its word.

So much so, in fact, that the Federal Communications Commission had to extend the deadline for commenting on the agency’s proposal to restructure the way traffic moves on the Internet. As of the Tuesday deadline, an astonishing 780,000 citizens had weighed in.

The plan, put forth by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, attempts to thread the needle while walking a tightrope. It’s a balancing act that simply cannot stand for long.

At the heart of the matter is a straightforward question: Should all traffic on the information superhighway be treated equally? When a proud father e-mails a couple of photos of his beloved baby to the infant’s grandmother, should that message have to wait at a virtual stop sign while another’s streaming video whips along the road unimpeded because the company behind the movie clip has paid for access?

No, we have argued in this space. Of course not.

The Internet has been such a transformative aspect of our lives because of its fundamental democratic structure. Online, all data are treated equally. Wheeler’s plan claims to uphold that principle, but in reality, some data would be more equal than others.

This is why some Democrats in the U.S. Senate, including the Bay State’s Ed Markey, are leading an effort to push the FCC to relabel the Internet as a utility. Like electric power and telephone service before it. This simple move would allow the commission to do what it needs to do — to keep the ‘net open to all — without fear of successful legal challenge.