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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

State action needed to protect internet access

By Bob Plain in Rhode Island’s Future

Image result for net neutrality
The FCC's recent decision to revoke Obama rules protecting net neutrality has opened the
door to this happening.
The Federal Communications Commission’s voted 3 to 2 to repeal net neutrality, the Obama-era government regulations that guaranteed all websites on the internet get treated equally by service providers. Here are four ways Rhode Island can respond.

1. Sue the FCC.

growing number of states have already said they will do this, including California, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Iowa, and next-door neighbor Massachusetts. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin tweeted (28 times!) on Thursday, “We anticipate signing on to the lawsuit and are awaiting the language of the lawsuit to properly evaluate it.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman explained why his “office will sue to stop the FCC’s illegal rollback of net neutrality” in this YouTube video:

2. Join with other states to enforce net neutrality at the local level.

The problem with this option is the Republican-controlled FCC added a provision preventing states from enforcing net neutrality on their own. (Whatever happened to states’ rights, GOP?) But states may well try, none-the-less.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee said prior to the FCC decision his state would enforce net neutrality on its own, according to the Spokesman Review, a Washington daily newspaper, the day before the vote last week. “This is a free-speech issue as well as a business development issue,” Inslee said.

California state Senator Scott Wiener announced in a Medium post the day of the decision, “In January when the State Legislature reconvenes, I will introduce legislation to require net neutrality in California.

He added, “Currently, California doesn’t have its own net neutrality regulations, because we have deferred to the federal requirement. There are several ways we can bring net neutrality to California. California can regulate business practices to require net neutrality, condition state contracts on adhering to net neutrality, and require net neutrality as part of cable franchise agreements, as a condition to using the public right-of-way for internet infrastructure, and in broadband packages.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted, “New York will take all necessary steps to protect #NetNeutrality.” That would seem to include regulating service providers.

I’m not sure if Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has commented about net neutrality. I requested a comment from two of her spokespeople and have not heard back from them yet (I reached out to them yesterday afternoon).

Very soon after the FCC decision was announced, Millenial Rhode Island, a group of young people who advocate against the so-called brain drain, called on local elected officials to “to pursue regulatory and legislative action that promotes net neutrality.” View image on Twitter.

3. Become the first state to offer every resident a publicly-managed, non-profit internet service provider.

There are some 185 cities across the country that already do this and 12 in Massachusetts, including  Taunton and Shrewsbury(outside Worcester). Seattle City Councilor Kshama Sawant revived this debate in that city when she wrote the day of the FCC decision, “Seattle must invest in building municipal broadband, so no internet corporation has the power to prioritize making money over our democratic rights.”

Because of our small size, Rhode Island could do this easier than any other state. If we don’t want to at the state-level, Providence and other local cities should give careful consideration to this option. (This reporter once lived in Ashland, Oregon, which has municipal broadband service. People liked it just fine and felt it kept corporate price gouging in check).

But a fair warning on this option: Rhode Island David Segal, the executive director of Demand Progress, a leading voice for net neutrality, told The Intercept that municipal broadband “shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for net neutrality.”

4. Lobby Congress to overturn the FCC decision.

Thanks to the Congressional Review Act, and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, it seems that Congress will get to weigh in on the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality. 

“Congress can overturn agency actions by invoking the Congressional Review Act (CRA), as it did earlier this year in order to eliminate consumer broadband privacy protections,” according to arstechnica, a tech blog. 

“A successful CRA vote in this case would invalidate the FCC’s net neutrality repeal and prevent the FCC from issuing a similar repeal in the future. This would force the FCC to maintain the rules and the related classification of ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act.”

Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.