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Legislature Considers Proposals to Preserve Internet

By Deirdre Cummings
Legislative Director

To: Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy

Fr: Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director, MASSPIRG

4/3/2018

Testimony in Favor of a Free and Open Internet  

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testify today. My name is Deirdre Cummings, I am the Legislative Director for MASSPIRG, a statewide, non-profit, consumer organization that has been taking on powerful issues on behalf of its members and all consumers for more than 40 years. MASSPIRG and our network of state PIRGs across the country are longtime supporters of a free and open Internet and the fundamental principle of net neutrality is critical to making it happen.

We strongly support net neutrality to maintain an open Internet. Network neutrality is the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks fairly, without improper discrimination in favor of particular apps, sites or services. An open internet is a fundamental consumer principle. We support the bills before you today – H.4151 Rep. Vargas, H.4222 Rep. Rogers, S. 2336 Sen. L’Italien, and S. 2389 Sen. Eldridge – as needed reforms to ensure a free and open internet. The intent of all the bills are the same – they prohibit ISPs from blocking, throttling, or allowing paid prioritization of internet content. While the strategies to enforce and regulate may differ, we hope the committee will take the best approach from the various bills.       

Net neutrality prevents big Internet service providers (ISPs) like Verizon and Comcast and Xfinity from dictating the kinds of content you're able to access online. Instead, Internet providers have to treat all traffic equally. They cannot pick winners and losers. They cannot speed up some content by creating fast and slow lanes. This is important not only to ensure the entertainment content that they own is not given unfair preference over other content, but to protect the open Internet as a marketplace of ideas, culture, innovation, civic participation, and information.

In response to the current Federal Communications Commission’s rollback of a previous FCC order in favor of net neutrality, states have and must, take the lead to protect the open Internet. This work is critical; states must and should take action to prohibit practices that harm consumers, new business, innovators, free speech and culture.

So far this year, at least three governors – in Montana, New York and New Jersey -- have issued Executive Orders to prohibit ISPs not complying with net neutrality from doing business with the state. And Washington has passed a bill prohibiting the practice.

Further, we ought not to reject claims by the ISPs that states are not allowed to act, or local action will create a patchwork of laws or impossible burdens on the industry, or net neutrality is not necessary to derail your work in protecting consumers.

Take for example, Montana’s Governor, Steve Bullock’s response to over-wrought claims that the states (or cities) will create a patchwork quilt of regulations impossible for ISPs to deal with:

"ISPs have always faced 50 sets of tort laws, consumer protection laws, property laws, tax laws. This is nothing new, and it's not onerous to implement. The Communications Act says that the Commission doesn't get to regulate state affairs. States do."

As for the legality of what the states can do, Governor Bullock goes on in a legal issues fact sheet to point out that Trump’s FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai’s, sweeping kitchen sink claims that the FCC has authority to preempt whatever the states try to do is nothing more than “a stretch.”

Even FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who backed the Pai rollback strongly, admitted that "State consumer protection laws will apply and state attorneys general can bring actions against ISPs. These authorities will provide another strong set of legal protections against unfair business practices by ISPs.”

Under the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission made net neutrality the law of the land. As the President said in 2014:

“An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life. By lowering the cost of launching a new idea, igniting new political movements, and bringing communities closer together, it has been one of the most significant democratizing influences the world has ever known.”

As Obama’s FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said when he issued the 2015 net neutrality order titled “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet,” 

“The American people reasonably expect and deserve an Internet that is fast, fair, and open. Today they get what they deserve: strong, enforceable rules that will ensure the Internet remains open, now and in the future.”

MASSPIRG strongly agrees. We also believe that FCC Chairman Pai’s claim that the states are preempted from any action at all to reinstate net neutrality is flat-out wrong. We encourage Massachusetts to take legislative and executive action to keep big ISPs from using unfair practices to divide the Internet into haves and have-nots.

Similar bills and proposals are pending across the country as states are looking to step in and protect their residents from unfair internet practices. We hope Massachusetts will be the next state to step up and pass strong consumer protection policies.

We look forward to working with this committee and members of the legislature to preserve a free and open internet for all. 

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