Missouri’s Lieutenant Governor is making a pitch to loosen regulations on providers of high speed internet.  An epic battle is currently raging over the future of what’s referred to as “net neutrality” rules.

Missouri Republican Lieutenant Governor Elect Mike Parsons

In May, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to do away with 2015 regulations, which classified broadband as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act. Under those rules, internet service providers (ISPs) are prohibited from blocking, throttling and prioritizing traffic.

Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, an appointee of President Donald Trump, contends the regulations are hindering infrastructure investment.  He wants a return to framework under Title I, in which broadband would be classified as an information service.

Lieutenant Governor Mike Parson agrees with Pai’s assertion.  He thinks loosening regulations on internet service providers would give them motivation to build out broadband infrastructure to under-served areas of Missouri.

“That’s going to allow us to have quicker access to those availabilities for the state of Missouri, rural Missouri, which has always been a problem” said Parson.  “I think statistically, there’s still probably well over half, maybe even 70% of the people in this state that still don’t have broadband.”

Critics are skeptical that laxer regulations would stimulate investment to spread broadband access.  Under FCC Chairman Pai’s plan, ISPs would be free to charge content providers such as Netflix to deliver data to customers through an “internet fast lane”.

Broadband providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast contend that allowing them to profit through a tiered delivery of content will enable them to invest in infrastructure build out.  Parson is convinced the ISPs will follow through on that promise.

“I think they will.  I think that there’s a market out there.  It’s just like cable television.  Cable providers go to rural Missouri.  Cable will go out there and they provide that service.  Is it more expensive?  Yes. But the people of those communities have a choice of whether they purchase that, or whether they don’t.  And I think the same thing should be available on broadband.”

Net neutrality requires ISPs to treat all data delivered to customers equally.  Its defenders contend it prevents broadband suppliers from blocking or discriminating against any content that rides over their networks.  Internet companies in favor of keeping the rules in place include Netflix, Facebook and Twitter.

FCC Chairman Pai’s 75-page proposal to undo the arrangement, which is called “Restoring Internet Freedom,” also asked the public to comment on the plan.  Interests representing both sides of the issues responded vigorously before the window for comment ended Monday.  There were more than 3.5 million responses filed in the last 30 days, out of a total of roughly 9 million.

Democratic U.S. Senator Al Franken of Minnesota is a fierce proponent of net neutrality, having called it the “First Amendment issue of our time”.

Parson will be attending the National Lieutenant Governors Association annual meeting in Nashville next week, where he notes net neutrality will be on the agenda.  He says the lack of broadband access in rural areas is a major concern for stakeholders in the state.

“We’ve been talking broadband a long time” Parson said.  “Whether it’s through the Farm Bureau, through ag agencies, through the federal level like talking to our Congressmen or our Senators, I think they’re well aware that we’ve got a problem in Missouri with broadband.  And we need to fix it.”

Parson, who was elected in November, received the most votes of any Lieutenant Governor in Missouri history.

Tuesday, a day after the comment period on the FCC’s proposed action ended, the Trump administration acknowledged its support for scrapping net neutrality.   Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “We support the FCC chair’s efforts to review and consider rolling back these rules”.