Joint Committee to consider Net Neutrality bills

In the wake of the recent decision by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to repeal net neutrality rules for internet providers, Representative Mike Connolly is proud to be co-sponsoring a pair of bills aimed at promoting net neutrality via state law.

The the legislature's Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy will hear testimony on H.4151, "An Act protecting consumers by prohibiting blocking, throwing, or paid prioritization in the provision of Interest service," and H.4222, "An Act Providing For Net Neutrality and Consumer Protection." These bills, filed by Representatives Rogers and Vargas, and co-sponsored by Rep. Connolly and others, are scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, April 3rd at 1 pm in room B2 of the State House.

H.4151, introduced by Rep. Vargas soon after the FCC decision, has since been revised based on feedback and review of House counsel; the newly-proposed language is available here. This new language directs the state’s purchasing power and regulation of utility poles to favor companies that honor net neutrality, and it also creates a process for ISPs to certify that they are net neutral and creates a test for both the state's Department of Public Utilities as well as consumers to measure the speed of their internet service.

Net neutrality is the principle that consumers and businesses should be able to reach the online applications and services of their choosing without interference from their broadband provider. In other words: all data and all traffic that travels over the Internet should be treated equally. Net neutrality ensures all users can access the content or run the applications and devices of their choice. With net neutrality, the network's only job is to move data — not choose which data to privilege. Net neutrality prevents the companies that control the wires from discriminating against content based on its source or type.

While it is true that questions have been raised about about the preemption of state level action in response to the recent FCC ruling, there is actually good reason to believe that state law can be used to protect consumers and advance the principles of net neutrality. In her testimony before the state Senate's Special Committee on Net Neutrality, Attorney General Maura Healey maintained that the FCC can’t just wipe away state-level consumer protection laws, and she further noted that Chapter 93A (which gives the AG power to prosecute in the name of consumer protection) takes precedent here.

In addition, as discussed in this article, the FCC's own recent position on the matter is that Congress has specifically withheld authority for broadband regulations from the FCC, and as a result, state-level efforts to impose net neutrality now seem even more viable.

While we continue to fight for net neutrality at the State House, Rep. Connolly would also like to highlight the work of advocates on the local level. Upgrade Cambridge is a new, grassroots organization that seeks to raise public support for municipal broadband. Rep. Connolly believes that city-owned and even a state-run network that provides reliable high speed internet service to all residents, regardless of the ability to pay, is necessary to address digital equity.

If you have any questions about how you can participate in the hearing, or how to submit written testimony to the committee, please email Rep. Connolly's legislative aide at [email protected].