Congress member Doris Matsui was flanked by two FCC commissioners as she warned against a proposal to allow internet service providers to charge clients more for high speed service.
The so-called "paid prioritization" proposal would allow ISP's like AT&T and Verizon to charge a premium for high data internet companies like Netflix and YouTube to put their content on a fast lane. That would also mean those who didn't pay might see a slowdown in the delivery of content which could result in the slow download of web pages for instance.
But critics fear that would give certain companies an unfair advantage over start-up companies who in the past have relied on the web to grow their businesses.
"It would stifle creativity and investment and squeeze out the competition," said Matsui.
Among those at the forum sponsored by Matsui was Chris Kelly, a former Facebook executive. He said Facebook would not have grown the way it has if they had to negotiate and pay for access to the web because the focus would have been on distribution rather than developing a social networking platform.
"You're building business models around fast access instead of thinking about how people are going to be able to be empowered and innovate," said Kelly.
California Public Utilities Commission member Catherine Sandoval said the free and open use of the internet has allowed utilities to develop programs and apps to monitor and control energy use.
She giving priority to certain users threatens public safety.
"Subjecting internet access to negotiations and slowdowns to minimum speeds can make pumps fail to open so they don't provide water for cooling a power plant or water to fight a fire," said Sandoval.
While some internet service providers see nothing wrong with charging extra for the faster systems they paid to build, others say there are so few providers that a small number of ISP's would be monopolies that threaten to control the free flow of information.
FCC commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel say the internet was the great equalizer for minorities and women and should not be controlled in any way.
That's why UC Davis student Richard Martinez was in the large crowd holding a sign backing what's been termed as "net neutrality" where all internet clients would be treated the same, whether posting a YouTube video, writing a blog, or starting a business.
"If they like you then you'll be recognized by everyone, it's based on merit not financial resources," said Martinez.
Matsui says the internet is so widely used that it would be undemocratic to restrict it.
"We're going to have 'haves' and 'have nots' and we don't want that," said Matsui.
In addition to working to change the language of the "paid prioritization" proposal before the FCC, Matsui is co-authoring a bill that would prohibit the practice.