Protestors marched Thursday in front of the Verizon store on Crater Lake Avenue to protest proposed changes to net neutrality. [Nick Morgan / Mail Tribune]

Demonstrators demand net neutrality

For the roughly six dozen demonstrators outside the Medford Verizon store Thursday, the way a provider treats internet content isn't just a young person's concern.

Aligning with net neutrality demonstrations at Verizon stores around the country, locals of all ages flocked to the Crater Lake Highway store at Delta Waters Thursday to protest FCC changes that would allow providers to give certain internet traffic preferential treatment.

Among the crowd of roughly six dozen people peacefully assembled on the sidewalk in front of the store was Angela Muñoz of Talent, who said she's followed the issue closely since 2010. What brought her out Thursday was concern that her parents, in their 70s and 80s, will have to pay more on their fixed income for the level of internet access needed for essential online services such as banking, utilities and retirement services.

"This is not the first time, but it's the most serious," Muñoz said.

Protesters nationwide targeted Verizon because FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, appointed by President Donald Trump, formerly worked as a Verizon lawyer. A vote is proposed next week to change 2015 FCC legislation that would allow internet traffic to travel via "fast lanes" and "slow lanes."

Linda Jacobs of Phoenix rallied the crowd with a megaphone using chants including "Stand Up / Fight Back / The internet is under attack."

The rally was organized by Oregon District 2 Indivisible, an organization loosely aligned with other Indivisible groups focused on resisting the Trump administration's agenda.

Garry Wood of Talent, however, described the issue as one that doesn't toe a party line. Holding a sign that said, "Don't Neuter the Internet," Wood said he sees the issue not as a debate between Republicans and Democrats, but rather people standing up to corporations.

"All of us use the internet," Wood said. "This is a great issue for us to all come back together."

Richard Larson of Eagle Point made a similar bipartisan plea.

"Republicans and Democrats should be just as mad about it," Larson said. "It's a free speech issue."

Providers emphasize that they'll be able to serve some programming faster, but supporter Betsy Shanafeld of Ashland expressed concern the change will come at the expense of individuals and smaller companies unable to pay extra, calling the deregulation a "big sellout to the cable companies."

"If you don't pay, you'd get relegated to the slow lane," Shanafeld said.

Shanafeld, along with Alan Journet of Jacksonville, laughed off partisan rumblings that protesters were paid to demonstrate.

"I'm being paid by Social Security," Journet joked.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

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