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Despite widespread protests, the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality in December. (Flickr Photo / Charles Moehle)

The nation’s leading civil rights group is urging local governments to treat internet like a public utility as concern over deregulation of private broadband providers grows.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a new paper Thursday encouraging cities and states to provide equitable, high-speed broadband that doesn’t prioritize some content over others or sell user browsing data.

The paper was released in response to actions taken by the Trump administration over the past year. In March 2017, Congress loosened rules restricting providers from selling browsing data of customers and in December, the FCC rolled back protections known as net neutrality.

The ACLU is concerned these changes will negatively impact consumers and won’t help close the internet access gap it says prevents 24 million Americans from receiving reliable, quality internet service. Here’s how the organization frames the issue in its new paper:

The problem for the monopoly telecoms is that what people want is simple and boring. They want clean, simple, fast, cheap internet service. They want the cable and phone companies to deliver data without messing with it and violating network neutrality, or spying on it and violating privacy. But these Wall Street-financed public corporations are under enormous pressure to produce dynamic new products that will allow for soaring profits. As a result, the fast, cheap, reliable, boring commodity connections that everyone wants are under constant threat from “innovations” by hungry carriers eager to extract additional revenue from customers.

The report suggests a variety of options from local governments, from outright municipal broadband to public-private partnerships that give the public more control over how internet is delivered. The ACLU also noted that cities can leverage their publicly-owned assets, like tubes and pipes, to create more regulation at the local level.

Washington state has emerged as a leader in the effort to check the power of big broadband operators in the wake of the FCC’s net neutrality repeal. Gov. Jay Inslee says he would consider restricting public assets, as the ACLU suggested, and last month Washington became the first state to pass its own net neutrality regulations.

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