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Connecticut considering how to counter net neutrality repeal

March 4, 2018

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut is considering whether it makes sense to counter the repeal of federal net neutrality rules, which had banned telecommunications companies from interfering with web traffic or speeds to favor certain sites or apps.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff last week unveiled proposed legislation that would ultimately prohibit internet service providers in Connecticut from throttling consumer internet speeds, blocking certain websites or charging extra fees in exchange for favored internet traffic.

Meanwhile, Democratic State Comptroller Kevin Lembo has urged Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, also a Democrat, to join at least five other governors in requiring all state contracts with internet providers include net neutrality provisions. A public hearing is scheduled for Monday on legislation that would do the same thing.

Opinions are mixed at the state Capitol as to whether Connecticut should get involved in what some argue is a federal debate.

Some highlights of where things stand:

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WHY DOES CONNECTICUT CARE ABOUT NET NEUTRALITY?

Appearing last week at a news conference, Gigi Sohn, a former counselor to a one-time Federal Communications Commission chairman, praised Connecticut lawmakers for “helping to fill the gaping hole” left by the FCC when it repealed net neutrality rules first imposed in 2015.

“When the federal government fails to protect consumers, it is up to the states to do so, and Senator Duff’s bill does just that,” said Sohn, who is now a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Institute for Technology Law and Policy. She contends the Connecticut legislation, which Duff said is modeled after proposals from other states, would ensure consumers, not internet service providers, “determine who wins and loses on the internet.”

Duff argues that net neutrality is good for Connecticut. He said he’s been flooded with positive feedback from the public.

“It is a Democratic and Republican issue,” said Duff. “It’s clearly bipartisan. This is an issue that affects people who are younger or older. This affects folks who are in the workplace and out of the workplace.”

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IS EVERYONE ON BOARD?

No, not everyone agrees Connecticut should even get involved in this fight.

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano said the General Assembly should not pass Duff’s legislation, which would charge the state’s Public Utility Regulatory Authority with regulating net neutrality provisions.

“It was only regulated for a very, very short period of time,” said Fasano, adding how there was an “internet explosion” with new companies entering the market before the Obama-era regulation took effect.

Connecticut “should just stay out of it,” Fasano said.

Former FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz told Connecticut lawmakers recently that internet access is an inherently interstate service and federal law pre-empts state and local regulation of broadband services.

“As a result, such legislation must be enacted at the federal level, which is also the right policy,” he said in written testimony.

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IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THE STATE CAN DO?

Malloy said he is considering Lembo’s suggestion that he issue an executive order, requiring net neutrality provisions in state contracts. Lembo also wants Malloy to deny state economic assistance to internet service providers that fail to uphold the provisions.

“The federal government’s efforts to repeal net neutrality rules are damaging to everyone who values access to a free and open internet,” Malloy said.

Meanwhile, Connecticut is one of at least 20 states and the District of Columbia that have sued to try and block the FCC’s action. The new rules are not expected to go into effect until later this spring.

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