Lobbyists for Internet Service Providers descended upon the Rhode Island House Committee on Corporations Tuesday evening to make the case that they fully support net neutrality and promise to abide by a policy supporting an open Internet, but also that they want no state level laws passed that might hold them to such a promise. At issue are two pieces of legislation, H7076 from Representative Brian Patrick Kennedy (Democrat, District 38, Westerly, Hopkinton) and H7422 from Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence). Kennedy’s bill “would require Internet service providers to follow Internet service neutrality” while Regunberg’s bill prevents the state from doing business with ISP’s that do not adhere to strict net neutrality provisions.
Timothy Wilkerson, vice president of the New England Cable & Telecommunications Association (NECTA) a “five state regional trade association representing substantially all private cable telecommunications companies in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont” said that his organization and others supported the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s decision to do away with net neutrality had nothing to do with net neutrality at all. These companies simply didn’t want to be regulated as common carriers, like phone companies in the 1930s. The dismantling of net neutrality was just an unfortunate side effect.
When FCC Chair Ajit Pai scrapped net neutrality, said Wilkerson, he intended to force the hand of congress and get a durable law that would preventing throttling, blocking and discrimination by ISPs. “That’s what our companies, for the last eight years have publicly and strenuously pledged,” said Wilkerson. Wilkerson indicated that violating net neutrality will bring investigations and enforcement actions from State Attorneys General, the Federal Trade Commission, the FCC (who despite giving up over site, still retains some authority, according to Wilkerson), and the United States Department of Justice.
When the date finally comes that net neutrality is gone, nothing will change, said Wilkerson. Our experience of the Internet will remain the same.
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Benjamin Aron, Director of State Regulatory & External Affairs for CTIA, a lobbying group that represents the United States wireless communications industry, said that under current regulatory guidelines, ISPs are required to disclose to their customers “how you will operate your network.” Violations of these policies are illegal.
Aron questioned the idea that a lack of net neutrality might lead to higher prices. “What about lower prices?” he asked. Aron also wondered about libraries. “What about prioritizing traffic for libraries, for instance? What if we want to make a whole lot of data available for free for libraries? Can we do that? Is that paid prioritization? Is it prohibited?”
Aron then played on people’s fears of new technology. “Self driving cars. Traffic on 95. We all want it reduced. Do we need to prioritize traffic? Is it more important that a car not crash, or that somebody watch bunny videos? These are some of the important questions that arise.”
Representative Jeremiah O’Grady (Democrat, District 46, Lincoln) asked Aron the most obvious question. If the proposed legislation “provides no protections that would not be found illegal under other, existing protections,” then why, ” you would argue so vociferously against something that provides no additional protections.”
Of the 17 people who testified on the net neutrality bills, all but three testified in favor. (Matthew Brill, a partner at the law firm of Latham and Watkins LLC, also testified on behalf of NECTA.) You can see all the oral testimony, including mine, here:
Dozens of companies, trade organizations and other pro-business groups sent in written testimony in opposition to these bills. AT&T, CenturyLink, Cox Communications, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, the New England Business Association, the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, the Rhode Island Society of Certified Public Accountants, the Rhode Island Business Group on Health, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, the Rhode Island Business Coalition, USTelecom, TechNet and CompTIA. And that’s just the written testimony I could access at the hearing. I’m sure there is more coming and sitting in the email inboxes of our elected legislators.
All this time and effort, for laws they claim are not needed.
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