Massachusetts lawmakers consider state net neutrality rules
By STEVE LeBLANC
Mar. 31, 2018
BOSTON (AP) — Beacon Hill lawmakers are trying to push through legislation they say will help make sure the internet remains as level a playing field as possible, even after U.S. regulators rolled back federal "net neutrality" rules.
A bill under consideration by the Massachusetts Senate aims to promote net neutrality through state government contracts and by targeting practices like blocking or "throttling" down the speed of some internet content, while prioritizing other content.
Drafters of the legislation say it would also protect consumer privacy by banning internet service providers from collecting, using or disseminating personal data without consent, and by requiring them to be transparent about their network management practices through the creation of a Massachusetts Internet Service Provider Registry.
The bill is a response to the decision in December by the Federal Communications Commission to gut Obama-era rules designed to prohibit internet providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon from slowing or blocking customer access to apps and sites, or from favoring their own sites and apps.
State Sen. Cynthia Creem, who led the commission that wrote the bill, said the legislation "would use all possible means to reinstate net neutrality at the state level." The Newton Democrat said the goal is to ensure all users benefit from a free and fair internet.
Senate President Harriette Chandler, a Worcester Democrat, also supports the legislation. "Massachusetts residents deserve consumer protections that ensure their access to a functional and fast internet," Chandler said.
The Senate push comes despite language in the FCC order pre-empting states and cities from imposing rules on broadband providers that would contradict the intention of the FCC.
Tim Wilkerson, vice president of the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association, said members of the five-state trade association representing private cable telecommunications companies in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont "support and adhere to the principles of net neutrality every day."
But Wilkerson said the association opposes the Senate bill.
"We believe that the best way to achieve lasting consumer protections and continue growing our local economy is through bipartisan federal legislation," Wilkerson said in a statement. "Regulating the Internet with a patchwork of state regulations will only harm consumers in Massachusetts and across New England."
Supporters of the Senate plan include the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
Kade Crockford, director of the group's Tech for Library Program, said attacks on personal privacy and democracy can come not only from companies like Google and Facebook but from internet service providers that can collect far more detailed information.
"Lawmakers have a historic opportunity to act now on net neutrality and consumer internet privacy," Crockford said in statement.
Massachusetts isn't alone in pushing back against the federal changes to the net neutrality rules.
This month Washington became the first state to enact its own net-neutrality requirements banning internet providers from blocking content or interfering with online traffic. The change also requires internet providers to disclose information about their management practices, performance and commercial terms.
Massachusetts was also among more than 20 states and the District of Columbia that sued in January to try to block the FCC's action.
Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey said at the time that "the last thing we need is slower, more expensive, and more restricted internet."
There are also efforts by Democrats in Congress to reinstate tougher net neutrality rules. U.S. Sen. Edward Markey is helping to lead those efforts.
Like other critics of the FCC's actions, the Massachusetts Democrat says repealing net neutrality rules will harm consumers and businesses that rely heavily on broadband access for their products and customers.