Net neutrality bills advance

: SB 6423 would impose in Washington state net neutrality regulations on internet service providers (ISP) which proponents say are necessary to keep the internet open to everyone. Two similar House bills have cleared their initial committees and have been referred to Appropriations. Photo: openclipart.org

As House lawmakers consider two similar net neutrality bills, another proposal has been introduced in the Senate that would apply the two-year federal policy to Washington state. SB 6423 would reinstate net neutrality restrictions on internet service providers (ISP) in an effort to prevent censorship and charge different rates, also known as “throttling.” The bill received a brief public hearing January 30 in the Senate Committee on Energy, Environment & Technology, where broadband leaders warned against reclassifying their industry.

“ISPs understand that an open internet is a profitable internet,” Broadband Communications Association of Washington Executive Director Ron Main said. “Degrading the internet by blocking speech and trampling what consumers have come to expect would not be profitable.

“Our members have made legally enforceable public pledges in support of the principles embodied in this bill,” he continued, “namely that we do not nor will not take actions to block legal content, we will not engage in throttling, and we will not unfairly discriminate – in other words creating internet traffic lanes and the like.”

Implemented in 2015, net neutrality changed the way ISPs were classified under federal regulations from “information services” and under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission to “telecommunication services” and subject to the FCC common carrier regulations under Article II of the Communications Act of 1934. Late last year, the FCC reversed this two-year policy.

Critics of this decision say that if not addressed, the reversal will lead to ISPs blocking content or using paid prioritization. At the January 20 public hearing, SB 6423 prime sponsor Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-40) told panel members that “We recognize that the repeal of net neutrality is a consumer violation and threatens our free speech. The idea that an ISP or anyone would be able to throttle the internet or limit access in certain areas is unacceptable, un-American and unconscionable,” adding that the bill would protect free speech.

Supporters testifying at the hearing included Logan Bowers, a software engineer with 20 years’ experience in the industry. He told lawmakers “as a consumer this is important to me and to others.”

“The insidious part is when they (ISPs) charge another business for internet access, or to access me as a customer, I am paying for it… it’s a way to charge me more.”

However, Main argued the legal pledges by industry members demonstrates their fears are unfounded. “That’s why we, together along with other ISPs, are working in Congress to codify these rules.”

Another mark against net neutrality proponents is that many of their fears were never realized prior to 2015, particularly with the use of “throttling.” That was the conclusion the FCC reached in its Restoring Internet Freedom Order: “There is scant evidence that end users, under different legal frameworks, have been prevented by blocking or throttling from accessing the content of their choosing. If anything, recent evidence suggests that hosting services, social media platforms, edge providers, and other providers of virtual Internet infrastructure are more likely to block content on viewpoint grounds.”

Main also said that the problem with net neutrality is how it would classify ISPs using “the regulatory framework for the telephone monopoly in the 1930s. I think our primary position is that the internet is an interstate service, it’s difficult for states to regulate on a state-by-state basis that which travels around the world. For those reasons, we would ask that you not advance this bill.”

If consumers and others are concerned about unfair pricing they should favor less, not more, regulations. That’s according to Adam De Gree, a Prague-based economics teacher writing in Mises Wire. “Rather than erect barriers to competition and resort to administrative determinations of ‘fair’ pricing, we should instead allow the pressures of the market to foster innovation. That way, ISPs can follow the lead of energy production and begin the long path toward decentralization.”

Also signed in opposed to HB 6423 but not testifying were Verizon, AT&T and Centurylink.

The two net neutrality House bills HB 2282 and HB 2284 received a January 18 public hearing in the House Technology & Economic Development Committee. Both received a “do pass” recommendation and have been referred to Appropriations, though no public hearings have been scheduled.

No further action is yet planned for SB 6423.

1 COMMENT

  1. Main asserts that net neutrality “…would classify ISPs using the regulatory framework for the telephone monopoly in the 1930s,” but don’t many of our regulatory frameworks date back many decades? As the Internet has evolved, access to it has dwindled from many providers to very few, giving each of them a great deal of leverage. Corporations naturally optimize for profitability, not openness, but it’s the openness of the Internet that has enabled a generation of entrepreneurial startups. Enabling the FCC to act as regulator under Title II is the means for maintaining openness, ensuring that future generations of startups are able to reach potential customers on a level playing field with established companies. The recent action by the FCC cedes regulatory authority back to the FTC, which is not designed to handle this function. If the FCC under this administration isn’t willing to act as regulator, states must step in how they can. I appreciate Sen Ranker, Rep Hansen, and Rep Smith stepping forward with these bills.

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